The custom-decaled Boeing 777F -- named the “FedEx Panda Express” -- is carrying the 4-year-old panda 8,500 miles from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., to Chengdu, China, where he will eventually join a panda breeding program.
Bei Bei departed the zoo around 9:30 a.m. for Dulles International Airport after receiving his last “American breakfast” of bamboo and leafeater biscuits and spent time in his outdoor habitat.
FedEx, which uses its global network and logistics expertise to help organizations with special shipments, donated the transportation services as part of its FedEx Cares “Delivering for Good” initiative.
FedEx supports the movement of rescued or endangered animals, such as giant pandas, across the country and around the world as part of its commitment to sustainability.
“FedEx is honored to be entrusted with Bei Bei’s journey to his new home in China,” said Richard W. Smith, executive vice president of Global Support, regional president of the U.S., FedEx Express. “Our team of skilled logistics experts, pilots and drivers take great pride in using their expertise to help support efforts to preserve this beloved, rare animal.”
The global shipping giant previously donated aircraft to bring Bei Bei’s older brother, Tai Shan, to China in 2010, his older sister, Bao Bao, to China in 2017 and their parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, to the United States in 2000, the Smithsonian said.
As part of the zoo's cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the zoo move to China when they are 4 years old, according to the National Zoo.
“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, said in a statement. “As we say goodbye to our beloved Bei Bei, our conservation scientists will continue to work in collaboration to prevent these animals from disappearing, giving them the opportunity to thrive in the wild, inspiring and teaching generations to come.”
Panda keepers prepared Bei Bei for the move by providing a specialized travel crate built for FedEx, which is made of steel and plexiglass and weighs approximately 800 pounds.
He was the only panda on the plane, traveling with the zoo’s assistant curator of giant pandas, who has cared for him since birth, and the zoo’s chief veterinarian.
In preparation for the trip, keepers packed 66 pounds of bamboo and scores of snacks including apples, pears, biscuits and sweet potatoes.
In the days leading up to his departure, the zoo held an online and on-site series of “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” celebratory events to bid farewell to Bei Bei before he begins the next chapter of his life.
The National Zoo is one of Washington's most popular tourist destinations, with approximately 2 million visitors each year. It is free of charge and is committed to "conservation through engaging experiences with animals and the people working to save them."