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Panda Farewell: National Zoo's Giant Pandas Poised for Early Return to China

"Farewell to Furry Friends: National Zoo Pandas Set for Early Departure to China"

Panda enthusiasts at the National Zoo are experiencing a wave of panda-monium as the anticipated departure of the beloved trio – Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji – has been moved up to mid-November, a few weeks earlier than initially planned for December 7th. This unexpected change in schedule has left panda lovers in Washington, D.C. with a bittersweet goodbye to their iconic residents.

The trio's journey to China will be aboard the specialized FedEx "Giant Panda Express" plane, marking the end of their tenure in the United States. Following an agreement with the Chinese government in December 2000, when Mei Xiang and Tian Tian first arrived at the zoo, the pandas' return to China is a significant moment in giant panda conservation efforts.

The exact departure date remains undisclosed due to security concerns, adding an air of suspense to the farewell. The only remaining giant pandas in the United States will soon reside in Atlanta once Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji bid adieu to their Washington home.

For the keepers who have nurtured and worked with the pandas for many years, the departure is undeniably emotional. Keeper Mariel Lally expressed the sentiment shared among the giant panda keepers, saying, "After working with the pandas for so many years, now, I'm very connected to them, and I have a lot of memories with them. So, them leaving is going to be really sad for me as it will be for all of the other giant panda keepers. But it's also something that we're really proud of."

Michael Brown-Palsgrove, the National Zoo's Curator of Asia Trail and Giant Pandas, acknowledged the mixed emotions, stating, "I am sad, you know, we've been able to work with these individuals, some of them 23 years. But it also means that we've been successful, and we've had a lot of wins to help save giant pandas both under human care and in the wild."

To commemorate the departure, the National Zoo hosted a week-long event called "Panda Palooza" at the end of September, allowing visitors to bid farewell to the pandas. The zoo encourages everyone to take the opportunity to see the pandas in the weeks leading up to their departure or to say goodbye through the Zoo's 24/7 panda cam.

As the pandas' time in the U.S. draws to a close, National Zoo officials remain tight-lipped about future plans, leaving the possibility of a renewal or extension of the agreement, as well as any prospects of welcoming new pandas to the zoo, shrouded in uncertainty.

"As the National Zoo's cherished giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, prepare for an early departure to China, the atmosphere is filled with a mix of anticipation and sadness. The accelerated farewell has captured the hearts of panda enthusiasts in Washington, D.C., who now have a limited time to bid adieu to these beloved residents.

The pandas' imminent journey aboard the specialized FedEx "Giant Panda Express" plane marks the closing chapter of their significant contribution to giant panda conservation in the United States. The exact departure date, veiled in secrecy due to security concerns, adds a touch of suspense to the emotional farewell.

For the dedicated keepers who have nurtured these iconic creatures for years, the departure is a poignant moment. The pride in their successful conservation efforts is tinged with sadness, as the pandas have become integral members of the National Zoo community.

As the National Zoo bids farewell to this iconic trio, the echoes of their contribution to giant panda conservation will endure. The event, commemorated with "Panda Palooza" and the encouragement for visitors to say their goodbyes, serves as a poignant reminder of the role these pandas have played in fostering awareness and appreciation for wildlife.

The future of giant pandas at the National Zoo remains uncertain, with officials tight-lipped about renewal or extension plans for the agreement with China. The departure of Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji leaves behind a legacy and a void that will be felt by both the dedicated keepers and the countless panda enthusiasts who have come to love these charming creatures."