"Bye bye" to giant panda "Bao Bao" - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"Bye bye" to giant panda "Bao Bao"

Posted: Updated:
(NBC) -

In Washington D.C. today, it's "bye bye" to "Bao Bao." 

The three-year-old giant panda who captured hearts and imaginations at the Smithsonian's National Zoo is on her way to her new home in China.

From the time she was born at the National Zoo in Washington, Bao Bao was a fan favorite. 

More than 40,000 of them visited her over the weekend, her last in America.

A deal with China means Bao Bao has to go to her ancestral homeland. So this morning, zookeepers put her in a crate, along with lots of Bao Bao's favorite foods: Bambo, sweet potatoes, apples, and honey. 

At Dulles Airport, a few words were said before her Fedex flight - dubbed the "Panda Express" - soared into the air.

"It's very bittersweet for us at the National Zoo to see her go, but it's my hope, it's my dream that Bao Bao's offspring, her descendants will be once reintroduced back into the wild in China," said Dennis Kelly, Director of Smithsonian's National Zoo. 

Bao Bao was born in August 2013, and was the size of a stick of butter. 

She grew up in front of delighted fans at the zoo and online. 

She's gone to China to be part of a breeding program. Giant Pandas are now listed as a "valuable" species, no longer endangered. 

The National Zoo still has three pandas on exhibit: Bao Bao's parents - Tian Tian and Mei Xiang ( May Zhong), and her little brother Bei Bei. 

Powered by Frankly