Bao Bao's last day at the National Zoo
Bao Bao's last day at the National Zoo Playful Bao Bao, enjoying her last day at the National Zoo before making the trip to China. (Smithsonian's National Zoo)
Bao Bao's last day at the National Zoo
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Tuesday morning, Feb. 21, was Bao Bao's final one at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, but for the young giant panda, it might as well have been any other.
But for others, those early post-dawn hours were more difficult.
"Bittersweet is the best word I can use to describe it," keeper Stacey Tabellario told me. As someone who has worked with Bao Bao throughout the animal's life, Tabellario has always known that she would have to say goodbye.
"You know it's going to happen," she said, before continuing. "But that doesn't mean there weren't tears this morning. And that there won't be more tears later."
You wouldn't have known it, though, to watch Tabellario and her fellow keepers as they prepared for Bao Bao's departure. Together, they carried supplies for the flight, by the official manifest: "50 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds apples, two bags of leafeater biscuits, cooked sweet potatoes and water," to a waiting FedEx van, smiling for the surrounding dignitaries and press. There, FedEx personnel loaded it into an AMJ, a sizable aluminum shipping container large enough to transport food for an entire menagerie.
Soon after, Bao Bao herself passed by, concealed by the perforated white walls of her own enclosure. Weighing hundreds of pounds, this sturdy construction was carried by a bright yellow JCB forklift that had been decorated with an oversized pair of black panda ears and a bushy white tail, as if to make up for the invisibility of the departing star.
Turning a corner, the forklift operator loaded his precious cargo onto a second truck, decorated - like its companion vehicle - with an enormous panda decal.
Though much of this phase of the operation unfolded out of sight, what followed was visible to all. A group of panda keepers surrounded Marty Dearie, who would be accompanying Bao Bao on her 16-hour flight to Chengdu, along with a veterinarian from the zoo. One after the next, each of them hugged Dearie.
"We are a very strong team," Tabellario told me when I asked her about this seemingly impromptu ritual later. "As much as we love the animals, we all love each other too."
Not long after, the two trucks pulled out, heading to Washington's Dulles Airport. There, a similar ceremony played out, less the panda keepers and the monochromatically decorated forklift. From a podium, Dennis Kelly, director of the zoo, addressed the importance of Bao Bao's trip, stressing that it was critical to give her the opportunity to reproduce and propagate her still-imperiled species. Connecting these efforts to everything the zoo does, Kelly told the assembled crowd, "Saving species is a forever business."
It was an apt phrase not least of all because life was presumably preceding as usual back at the National Zoo. Though the grounds had been closed for the morning departure, other keepers were looking after other animals behind the scenes, as they would be on any other day.
Things will change for the pandas, to be sure, but the three who remain at the zoo likely won't notice Bao Bao's departure any more than she did the hullabaloo that preceded it. If anything, they may enjoy the change, if only because the younger Bei Bei, already on the verge of weaning from her mother, will soon move into Bao Bao's now vacant yard. And before long, Mei Xiang may be pregnant again, a prospect that presents both new challenges and exciting new opportunities for the zoo.
Thinking of the work ahead, Tabellario shook her head fondly.
"There's no rest for a panda team," she said, smiling.

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Why does China have strict agreements about its pandas?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • johannaw-cel
    2/27/2017 - 10:22 a.m.

    In the morning on Feb. 21, the young giant panda Bao Bao left the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington. His keeper Stacey Tabellario has always known that she would have to say goodbye someday but she was really sad that this day came by so fast. The Panda got 50 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds apples, two bags of leafeater biscuits, cooked sweet potatoes and water on his flight. Marty Dearie and a veterinarian from the zoo would be accompanying Bao Bao on her 16-hour flight to Chengdu. The director of the Zoo, Dennis Kelly, made the importance of Bao Bao's trip clear, and said that saving species is a forever business. The three pandas who remain at the zoo will most likely not notice Bao Bao's departure. The zoo hopes that panda Mei Xiang will be pregnant again soon. In my opinion this is really important to save species that are likely to go endangered.

  • annakatep-cel
    2/27/2017 - 10:27 a.m.

    Pandas are awesome creatures and bao bao is an animal that obviously meant a lot to many of the workers at the national zoo. His departure to china was very difficult for many of the workers that have helped raise him.

  • parkerz-cel
    2/27/2017 - 10:28 a.m.

    Since pandas are not a native animal and are extremely specialist China must keep very strict guidelines on America's upkeep on them. Specialist species such as the Panda are animals that have no interest in reproducing which makes the extinction rate increase drastically, and the world would be a terrible place without the cute pandas' running around it.

  • marbellar-goa
    2/27/2017 - 10:50 a.m.

    China has strict agreements about its pandas because they are brought to America to be seen in zoos and want the pandas to been the same when they left China. According to the article "Bao Bao's Last Day at the National Zoo" it said the they rent pandas because another panda is being rented to be in the zoo. A new panda is going to the zoo.

  • basilek-pla
    2/27/2017 - 07:15 p.m.

    Bao Bao is leaving the National Zoo! The article tells the story of Bao Bao's departure, garnering the opinions of the various zookeepers and attendants who work there. The zookeepers all viewed the pandas as a member of their family, and it was very sad when Bao Bao had to leave. However, the other pandas might be happier because they have more room. This connects to civic engagement because it's important to be connected to the world around us, and the zookeepers are practicing civic engagement by tending to the world around them.

  • noahr-ste
    2/28/2017 - 12:58 p.m.

    China's agreements are very strict because these animals are native to the lands of china. They are also beginning to go extinct so they are really watching out for them.

  • davidv-pel
    3/01/2017 - 09:16 a.m.

    They are endanger,and the panda will put through a breading program.

  • alexisjc-pel
    3/01/2017 - 09:20 a.m.

    China has strict agreements about its pandas because they are brought in america to be seen in the zoos and they want the pandas to be seen the same way in china

  • jerardom-pel
    3/01/2017 - 09:27 a.m.

    China have strict agreements because They don't want panda to get extinct. They want to keep them safe and living and being a part of the world for many years more.

  • piersonw-cel
    3/01/2017 - 11:14 a.m.

    They want to save their species and prevent extinction.

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