China / Across America

Bao Bao just herself at dumpling farewell

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-02-17 13:24

Bao Bao, the giant panda at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, did not disappoint at her Chinese dumpling farewell party on a frigid Thursday morning.

As a crowd gathered outside her yard, Bao Bao, who will return to China on Tuesday, wandered about, munching on bamboo and then napping on a tree trunk, leaving many to wonder how long the rest would be and when she would come and open a special food box with a jiaozi (Chinese dumpling) drawing outside. It was put in the yard earlier by her keeper.

To the delight of partygoers outside her yard, the siesta lasted about 10 minutes. But before strolling toward the food box, she climbed a tree, sitting near the top, looking around and relaxing before coming down to get her special treat 12 minutes later.

Bao Bao has been in the spotlight since the zoo announced her departure last October. The dumpling party, with food provided by the Chinese embassy, was one of a series of celebratory events leading to her departure.

Helen Gonzales, who lives not far from the zoo, said she visits the giant pandas on most weekends since 2006, when Tai Shan, the first surviving panda born at the zoo, was only 9 or 10 months old. Tai Shan returned to China in 2010 to join the breeding program.

"It's sad. I know I would cry," she said of Bao Bao's upcoming departure. But Gonzales said she knew there is a good and important reason for them to go back.

"But I'm still going to miss Bao Bao, amazing panda," she told China Daily.

Bao Bao was born on Aug 23, 2013, through artificial insemination of giant panda Mei Xiang. Bao Bao was the first surviving cub at the zoo since 2005 after Tai Shan's birth.

At the beginning of the dumpling party, Lisa Washam of Ohio was writing on wish cards prepared by the zoo. "You are an amazing panda and the best is yet to come. I am very excited for you to take the next step. I can't wait to see your lovely cubs soon. And I am sure they are going to be as beautiful as you are," she said as in reading her message to reporters.

Washam had traveled to Washington in the past years for the debut of Bao Bao and her brother Bei Bei, born in August 2015.

Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of giant pandas at the zoo, described Bao Bao as "very unique".

"She is very independent girl. She loves to do what she wants. She vocalizes a lot when she wants something, a lot like her dad," said Thompson, referring to the zoo's 19-year-old giant panda Tian Tian.

Thompson called Bao Bao "a sweetheart. We love her here. But we know that our work here is done, we need to send her off on her way. Almost an adult now, so we need to let her go," she said.

Under a loan agreement between the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, cubs born in the zoo by giant pandas on loan from China also belong to China and should move to China before they reach the age of 4.

The zoo began training Bao Bao in recent months to acclimate her for a 16-hour flight to China in a huge shipping crate.

Michael Brown-Palsgrove, curator of giant pandas, said Bao Bao is now quite comfortable with the crate. "She has no hesitation to enter that space. I think she will be comfortable on the trip," he said.

Bao Bao will be accompanied by a panda keeper and a veterinarian, plus some of her favorite foods, such as bamboo, sweet potatoes, apples and biscuits.

"She will probably just be resting, doing her normal routine - eating, drinking and sleeping," Brown-Palsgrove said.

While some news reports said that giant pandas returning to China from Zoo Atlanta had encountered language barriers, keeper Stacey Tabellario at the National Zoo said it should not be a big problem for Bao Bao because the hand signals used by her and her colleagues will be the same as those in China.

Bao Bao just herself at dumpling farewell

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