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Bei Bei’s Departure FAQs

Why is Bei Bei leaving the Smithsonian’s National Zoo?

As part of the cooperative breeding program with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) that the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute participates in for giant pandas, all panda cubs born at the Zoo depart to live in China at age 4. In China, giant pandas participate in the breeding program when they reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years old.

Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are an estimated 1,800 in the wild. Although that is an increase from the previous giant panda census, it is still not very many. The population remains vulnerable to threats from disease, climate change and habitat loss. Scientists in China are working to increase the number of wild pandas and their habitat. They are beginning to reintroduce pandas, born in human care, to the wild. It is possible that Bei Bei’s offspring or descendants may be reintroduced to the wild.  

When is Bei Bei leaving the Zoo?

Bei Bei will move to China Nov. 19. The Zoo and Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) will organize special opportunities for fans to say goodbye to Bei Bei before he leaves.

How will Bei Bei travel to China?

FedEx will fly Bei Bei to Chengdu, China. A keeper and veterinarian from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will accompany him. FedEx also donated a dedicated aircraft to bring Bei Bei’s older sister Bao Bao (BOW BOW) in 2017, his older brother Tai Shan to China in 2010, and his parents, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), to the United States in 2000. The panda team will monitor Bei Bei continuously during his trip and will travel with plenty of bamboo, apples, sweet potatoes, leaf eater biscuits and water. Keepers will acclimate him to a specially designed travel crate.

The crate will be placed in the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat in a chute between his indoor enclosure and his yard. Initially, keepers will ask Bei Bei to move through the crate every day. After he has become comfortable moving through the crate, they will gradually acclimate him to spending short periods of time in the crate with the door closed. He will be rewarded with his favorite treats when she chooses to spend time in the crate.

Where will Bei Bei live in China?

Bei Bei will live at the Bifengxia (bee-feng-sha) Panda Base, one of the bases operated by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP).

Will anyone from the Zoo travel to China with Bei Bei?

Yes. One keeper and one veterinarian will travel to China with Bei Bei. They will stay with him continuously from the moment he leaves the Zoo until he arrives safely in China and is in the care of Chinese keepers.

Will the public have a chance to say goodbye to Bei Bei before he leaves?

Yes, the Zoo and FONZ will announce opportunities for FONZ members and the public to see and celebrate Bei Bei before he leaves for China. The activities are scheduled for Nov. 11 to 18.

Will Bei Bei meet Tai Shan or Bao Bao in China?

Giant pandas are solitary in the wild, though their territories may overlap. Males do not spend time together, so Bei Bei and Tai Shan will never meet. Males and Females only spend time together during the breeding season. However, Bei Bei and Bao Bao are siblings and will not be recommended to breed, so they will never spend time together.

Will Bei Bei be uncomfortable living apart from his parents?

Giant pandas are solitary in the wild, and cubs separate from their mothers between 18 months and 2 years old. Bei Bei has been living separately from his mother, Mei Xiang, since March 2017. Bei Bei will become more territorial as he gets older, which is normal for a young male bear. Since adult males do not play any role in raising cubs in the wild, Bei Bei has never interacted directly with Tian Tian. They have had the opportunity to see each other through mesh windows, but they have not expressed much interest in each other.

Now that giant pandas are no longer endangered, why does Bei Bei have to go to China?

All giant pandas born at the Zoo move to China around the time they are 4 years old. Although giant pandas have been reclassified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN they are not safe from threats. Scientists in China are working to reintroduce giant pandas born in human care to the wild. Reintroductions require a genetically diverse population of animals. Since Bei Bei is related to all the pandas at the Zoo, the best chance for him to help his species is to breed successfully in China. His offspring or descendants could potentially be reintroduced to the wild.

When will Bei Bei breed?

Male giant pandas reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years old. He will have ample time to adjust to his new home before he experiences his first breeding season. Male giant pandas are in “rut,” or capable of breeding, for several months during the spring. In the wild males compete for access to females when they are in “estrus” or capable of conceiving a cub.

Will Bei Bei have a webcam in China?

That decision will be made by our colleagues in China.

Will Bei Bei understand his new keepers in China?

Although Bei Bei’s current keepers speak to him in English, during training they use hand signals and body gestures to direct him to do certain behaviors. He primarily uses those signals to determine what keepers are asking him to do. His keepers in China will also use hand signals and body gestures. The American team will have the chance to brief the Chinese team on hand signals, training and other behaviors.

What will happen to Bei Bei’s yard and indoor enclosure?

After Bei Bei moves to China, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will have the opportunity to use his indoor enclosures and outdoor yards. It can be enriching for pandas to smell scent marks left by other pandas. Tian Tian especially enjoys exploring the other yards.

Will Mei Xiang and Tian Tian Breed in 2020?

The Zoo’s panda team will consult with colleagues in China before making any plans for the 2020 breeding season.

Will anyone from the Zoo stay with Bei Bei in China to help him adjust to his new home?

Yes. A keeper will stay with him for a short time to help him adjust and help his new keepers learn about him.

How big is Bei Bei?

Bei Bei weighs 240 pounds.

Will Bei Bei’s keepers see him again?

Keepers and scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute travel to China each year as part of collaborative conservation research and breeding efforts. It is possible that they may see Bei Bei during one of their trips, but they will not be making trips solely to see him.

How big is the travel crate Bei Bei will travel to China in?

The travel crate for Bei Bei’s trip to China will likely be identical or very similar in size to the crate Bao Bao traveled in which was 55 inches wide by 75 inches long and 50 inches tall.

Will it be too cold during the winter for Bei Bei to make a long trip like this?

Giant pandas prefer cold weather. Their thick woolly coats keep them warm and repel water. It is better for giant pandas to travel in the winter months when it is cool, instead of the heat of the summer.