We're Already Sad: DC Getting Ready to Bid Farewell to Bao Bao

Bao Bao will leave for China Feb. 21

It seems like only yesterday we were watching her take a bottle, squawk adorably through a veterinary exam and tumble — adorably — down rocks.

But now Bao Bao, the Smithsonian's National Zoo's 3-year-old giant panda, is headed back to China. Though we knew the return was coming, many in the D.C. region just aren't ready.

"I'm so sad!" young Sammy Cronin, clutching his own stuffed panda, said outside the Giant Panda exhibit at the Zoo's Asian Trail. 

"Come back to Washington, D.C.," echoed Sammy's brother, Will.

Bao Bao will return to China via a special 16-hour FedEx flight on Tuesday. She'll be accompanied by a zookeeper on the flight, who will stay in China for a while to make sure she acclimates.

Many visitors, who clearly have watched Bao Bao and younger brother Bei Bei grow up, commented on Bao Bao's personality.

"She's a spitfire," said Leslie Johnson, who was visiting the zoo Wednesday. "And funny. And just like her dad."

[NATL-DC] PHOTOS: Our 10 Favorite, Fabulously Adorable Bao Bao Moments

The zoo announced farewell celebrations for Bao Bao back in January. Five days of events begin Thursday at the zoo and online. Click here for a full schedule.

Bao Bao is moving to China to enter the the country's panda breeding program, the National Zoo has said.

"We know she's going to go to China, and hopefully have little Bao Baos or Bao Bao juniors or whatever you want to call them ... and fulfill her destiny of becoming a mom and adding to the population of pandas," Johnson said.

All panda cubs born at the zoo must move to China before they turn 4.

Bao Bao won't turn 4 until August, but the zoo has said it's better for pandas to travel in the winter months when it's cool.

[NATL-DC] PHOTOS: Bao Bao Through the Years

Bao Bao's older brother, Tai Shan, moved to a Chinese breeding center in February 2010.

Bao Bao and Tai Shan's late grandfather, Pan Pan, was the Chinese breeding program's superstar. He fathered at least 32 cubs, and can count among his descendants about one-quarter of the world's population of captive-born pandas.

Bao Bao is the second of three surviving cubs born to Mei Xiang during her time at the zoo. She and a stillborn female twin were born Aug. 23, 2013. Her birth was especially exciting because it had been years — eight, in fact — since the National Zoo had a surviving cub.

Bao Bao now weighs 180 pounds and is classified as a "sub-adult."

Pandas can begin breeding between the ages of 4 and 6.

Tai Shan's Final Goodbye

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