Chinese Pandas Left US on a Plane, Sputnik Correspondent Reports
© AP Photo / Karen Pulfer FochtA memorial sits in the day house of Le Le, a Giant Panda that passed away earlier this year at the Memphis Zoo Saturday, April 8, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn.
© AP Photo / Karen Pulfer Focht
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - A FedEx aircraft carrying a family of giant pandas has taken off from the Dulles International Airport near Washington DC to return the bears to their homeland, China, a Sputnik correspondent reported on Wednesday from the airport's grounds.
A FedEx official said the pandas would be traveling "first class" and would be able to play with their toys and eat bamboo while on the plane.
Before the departure, media representatives could witness how the white and black animals were loaded onto the aircraft.
Besides multiple media representatives, Chinese diplomats and representatives of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservative Biology Institute came to see the pandas off.
The event drew a lot of media attention. Some reporters attending the sendoff even dressed up as panda bears for their live broadcasts, while the organizers wore vests that said "FedEx Panda Team."
The pandas will have enough bamboo, apples and pears with them on the plane.
They are due to touch down in their homeland on Thursday morning. Some media outlets have even provided links to the flight tracker to follow the plane’s route.
On Wednesday morning, the three giant pandas — Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji — left what is now their former home at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington and were transferred by three FedEx trucks to the airport.
Residents with children as well as guests from other states and towns came hours before the scheduled departure to say goodbye to the beloved pandas. Some were holding panda toys, some were crying.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington and China's Wildlife and Conservation Society had a three-year agreement to keep the three panda bears in the US capital through 2023. The agreement is set to expire in December.
Chinese Embassy in Washington spokesperson Liu Pengyu told Sputnik in October that the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the National Zoo in Washington had announced that the three giant pandas — Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji — would return to China at the end of the year as previously scheduled.
Liu also said that US and Chinese technical cooperation units are communicating on future collaboration on giant panda research and conservation.
The giant panda is an unofficial symbol of China. In July 2021, the Chinese authorities announced that giant pandas are no longer an endangered species in the country, as their population has grown to more than 1,800 individuals in the wild over the past decade.