BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The National Zoo said Wednesday, Bao Bao, the zoo’s giant female panda, is preparing for her departure to China.

Bao Bao was born at the zoo on Aug. 23, 2014, and the first cub to survive birth since 2005 at the time.

“As part of the Zoo’s cooperative long-term breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the Zoo move to China by the time they turn 4 years old,” the zoo said in a statement.

China owns all giant pandas in U.S. zoos and requires that cubs born here be sent “home” about the time they reach breeding age.

“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.”

Bao Bao has been living apart from her mother, Mei Xiang, since March 2015. Giant pandas are solitary in the wild, and cubs separate from their mothers to establish their own territories between 18 months and 2 years old, the statement said.

The zoo plans a series of farewell events. The panda is scheduled to be flown to China in a few weeks. The zoo has not said exactly when.

Bao Bao’s trip to China will come seven years after the zoo’s giant panda Tai Shan made the trip in February, 2010.

Tai Shan was born at the zoo July 9, 2005, and was the only giant panda born there to survive beyond infancy at the time.

 Bao Bao was joined by Bei Bei at the zoo, a male giant panda born there on Aug. 22, 2015.
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