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. For the young giant panda, it might as well have been like 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. She is one who has worked with Bao Bao throughout the animal's life. So 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. They carried supplies for the flight to a waiting FedEx van. The official manifest included "50 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds apples, two bags of leafeater biscuits, cooked sweet potatoes and water." FedEx personnel loaded it into an AMJ. It is a sizable aluminum shipping container. It is large enough to transport food for an entire menagerie.
Soon after, Bao Bao herself passed by. She was 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. It was 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. It was 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. He 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. "As much as we love the animals, we all love each other too."
Not long after, the two trucks pulled out. They headed to Washington's Dulles Airport. There, a similar ceremony played out. From a podium, Dennis Kelly, director of the zoo, addressed the importance of Bao Bao's trip. He stressed 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 noted, "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, keepers were looking after other animals behind the scenes. It was the same as any other day at the zoo.
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. After all, 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. That is a prospect that presents both new challenges and exciting 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

  • wcaroline-dav
    2/25/2017 - 05:30 p.m.

    In response to "Bao Bao's last day at the National Zoo." I think they have strict agreements about their pandas, because they don't want them to become extinct. Pandas are very unique animals and there are only a couple of them left. China lets only three pandas into the USA zoos. China wants its pandas to be able to grow up and return to China so they can have more babies and not risk extinction.

  • alant-
    2/27/2017 - 08:39 a.m.

    That once they are finally at the age where they can walk and play it's time for them to leave the zoo into another so they can keep the animal safe and protected.

  • josepho-bru
    2/27/2017 - 09:35 a.m.

    According to the article"Bao Bao's last day at National Zoo," there are many different reasons why China has strict agreements about Bao. The first reason is that Bao's species of panda is critically endangered. Another important reason that China has the strict agreements for Bao is that they want to help reintroduce the species back into the wild. The very last important reason they need to have these strict agreements is that she could help them with reproducing more and more giant panda's. Finally,I know why China has these very strict and important agreements about Bao tha giant panda.

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

    China has such strict agreements about their Pandas because that animal represents their country and what they are about. Pandas are also so rare and are moving towards extinction so they want to preserve their animals and treat them with the best care. Moving pandas from China to the US then back to China can have a lot of stress on these animals so they want to be sure it goes as smooth as possible and it the most comfortable for the animals.

  • lorennr-bur
    2/27/2017 - 10:10 a.m.

    They have strict rules because, pandas are endangered specie. They are very much cared for because they are fragile animals so you cant just toss them around like a ball. I think that they should create a plane just for these amazing creatures.

  • jadec1-pet
    2/27/2017 - 10:41 a.m.

    In the article, "Bao Bao's last Day at the National Zoo", by Jacob Brogan, China has strict agreements about their pandas because I don't think China would keep unhealthy animals and if China kept too many animals, I think China would be really full with animals and people wouldn't have enough "space" to live in China.

  • lillyr-pet
    2/27/2017 - 10:42 a.m.

    They have strict agreements because the pandas are their animal so they want them.

  • joeg-goa
    2/27/2017 - 10:44 a.m.

    China has strict agreements about its pandas because the people sent boa boa to a 16-hour flight to another city. According to the article `Boa Boa's last day at the national park' it said,`He would be accompanying boa boa's 16-hour flight to chengdu.

  • jadec1-pet
    2/27/2017 - 10:45 a.m.

    I thought Bao Boa's last day at the National zoo was sad, but happy because she can rome free and not be locked up anymore, but she might miss the people at the zoo who took care of her.

  • leslieb-goa
    2/27/2017 - 11:01 a.m.

    China have strict agreements about its pandas?because they might care about there pandas Though the grounds had been closed for the morning departure, keepers were looking after other animals behind the scenes. It was the same as any other day at the zoo.According to the text i found my answer on paragraph 11 in line 3.

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