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The panda population in the United States is dropping by three.
Atlanta's zoo has said that its 3-year-old giant panda twins are leaving. They will leave the zoo Nov. 3. And the National Zoo in Washington said it will be saying bye-bye to panda cub Bao Bao. That will happen next year. The zoo didn't give a date. But the cub will move to China within the first few months of 2017. Both zoos said it is better for pandas to travel in the winter months, when it is cool.
A total of four U.S. zoos have pandas. The animals are on loan from China. The loan agreement says pandas born in the United States must return to China. They generally go around age 4. All three pandas leaving for China are females. They are expected to eventually become part of a breeding program there.
When they leave, a dozen pandas will remain in the United States. Four live in Atlanta. Three live in Washington. Three live in San Diego. And two live in Memphis.
Atlanta's departing panda twins are Mei Lun and Mei Huan. They were born July 15, 2013. They were the first surviving panda twins born in the United States. The zoo's head veterinarian said that when the two were young, Mei Lun was a little bit of a complainer. Mei Huan was more "go with the flow." Those differences have smoothed out as they aged. They have since been joined by a second pair of twins. Those were born at Zoo Atlanta on Sept. 3.
In Washington, Bao Bao delighted the zoo and panda fans. She was born Aug. 23, 2013. Her mother, Mei Xiang, gave birth to her first cub, Tai Shan, in 2005. But Mei Xiang failed to get pregnant for years. Then, a cub born in 2012 didn't survive. Mei Xiang has since had a third surviving cub, Bei Bei. He was born on Aug. 22, 2015. Older brother Tai Shan left the zoo for China in 2010.
The zoos say they're getting ready for the pandas' departure. In Washington, a travel crate will soon be placed in Bao Bao's habitat. That is so she can get used to it. In Atlanta, a crate is already part of the pandas' enclosure.
Both zoos also have their packing lists. In Washington, it includes 55 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds of apples and pears and 10 gallons of water. Zoo Atlanta's list is double that size. It includes sugarcane and bananas.
National Zoo panda curator Michael Brown-Palsgrove had some words of comfort for fans sad to say "bon voyage" to Bao Bao. He stressed the "very important role" she will play by returning to China. She will become part of the breeding program there.
Zoo Atlanta's head veterinarian is Hayley Murphy. She is the vice president of Animal Divisions. She acknowledged the pandas' departure is bittersweet.
"We've loved having two grow up together. It's been really fun to watch them play and entertain each other," she said.
Panda fans in Atlanta do have something to look forward to even as Mei Lun and Mei Huan depart. Their 6-week-old siblings are expected to make their public debut soon. It likely will happen in December or January.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does China keep such tight control on pandas?
Write your answers in the comments section below