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Giant panda Bao Bao is leaving the Smithsonian's National Zoo and is headed for China on Feb. 21. (Photo: Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The National Zoo's giant panda, Bao Bao, is headed to China on Feb. 21


Bao Bao, the National Zoo's 3-year-old giant panda is headed to her new home in China on Feb. 21. 

One zookeeper and a veterinarian will fly with Bao Bao to continuously monitor her on the FedEx "Panda Express" as she travels to Chengdu, China. They will also be there to ensure that Bao Bao has access to all her favorite treats, including bamboo, apples, pears and cooked sweet potatoes, the zoo said in Monday's press release

Bao Bao's move is part of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute's cooperative breeding program with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. 

As part of that agreement, all cubs born at the zoo move to China before their fourth birthday so they can breed with other pandas, which helps keep the population genetically diverse, according to the National Zoo. 

Bao Bao will turn four on Aug. 23, 2017. 

“Bao Bao is very special to us at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo,” said Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences. “She was the first surviving cub born at the Zoo since 2005. She’s captured the hearts of people all over the world who watched her grow up on the panda cams, and she has been an ambassador for conservation. We are sad to see her go, but excited for the contributions she is going to continue to make to the global giant panda population.”

The zoo's staff is already working with Bao Bao to make sure she's comfortable during her journey. Part of those preparations includes making sure Bao Bao is acclimating to her travel crate.  After she's adjusted to walking in the crate keepers will help her get used to spending short periods of time in it with the door closed. 

Once Bao Bao arrives in China, her keepers will drive her to one of the bases run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, according to the zoo's website. 

There, the American team will stay with her for a short time while she adjusts to her new home. By the time she's 5 or 6 years old, Bao Bao will enter the giant panda breeding program. 

There's still time for the public to say their goodbyes to Bao Bao though. Click here for a full list of activities the zoo has planned to send her off. 

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