U.S.-born pandas take up new lives in China

Two giant pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, were safely returned today their ancestral homeland, China, by special “Panda Express” air-freighter, Federal Express said in a news statement.

Star attractions at their respective zoos, the pandas left the United States in style. Farewell events attended by hundreds of wellwishers were held for each of them and they were given police escorts to their custom-equipped aircraft.

They have been sent to China to take part in a breeding program.

Tai shan farewell photo.jpg

Tai Shan’s keepers wish him a final farewell.

Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian Institution

Send-off events were held at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport yesterday as city officials, zoo representatives and others bid farewell to the pandas before departure from U.S. soil, FedEx said.

The company donated the flight from Atlanta to Chengdu via Washington and worked with Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Zoo Atlanta to provide for the safety and comfort of both pandas on board a FedEx Boeing 777. Veterinarians from both zoos accompanied the pandas to China.

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FedEx video shows how the Boeing 777 “Panda Express” was decorated with a giant panda decal.

FedEx’s “Panda Express” has transported giant pandas in the past, the company said, including Tai Shan’s parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to Washington in 2000. In 2003 FedEx delivered Ya Ya and Le Le to the Memphis Zoo. (Look at pictures and read our 2003 story: Air Panda: Flying Cargo-Class With a Very Special Delivery.) 

Tai Shan is the first surviving giant panda born at the National Zoo in Washington. He was born to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian on July 9, 2005.

“Under the National Zoo’s agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (WCA), the four-and-ahalf-year-old panda will take part in a breeding program at Wolong’s Bifengxia Base in Sichuan, China,” the zoo said in a statement. The zoo negotiated two extensions with WCA to keep Tai Shan for 30 months beyond the original two-year contract.

Mei Lan was the first giant panda cub born at Zoo Atlanta and the only cub born in the U.S. in 2006. Her parents are Lun Lun and Yang Yang.

“This is a bittersweet moment for the Zoo Atlanta family and for fans around the world, but it’s a wonderful moment for giant pandas,” said Zoo Atlanta Curator of Mammals Rebecca Snyder. “We’re very proud to have shared Mei Lan’s life to the point where she can now begin making her own contributions to the world’s population of giant pandas.”

The pandas are in qaurantine for 30 days before making their public debut to visitors to their new home in China. The parents of Tai Shan and Mei Lan remain at their respective U.S. zoos on 10-year loans from China.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn