French first lady Brigitte Macron appeared emotional when she paid a surprise three-hour visit on Wednesday to her "godson" Yuan Meng, a giant panda in the Beauval Park Zoo, about 200 kilometers southwest of Paris.
The first giant panda born in France on Aug 4, 2017, Yuan Meng is scheduled to return to China's Giant Panda Research and Reproduction Center in Chengdu on July 4 to join the conservation program and "breed with an unrelated female", zoo director Rodolphe Delord said.
"Yuan Meng will soon go back to China, that's why I wanted to be here today," said the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was accompanied by Secretary of State for Ecology Berangere Couillard.
"I will try to go see him maybe once there. But now, I have a little pinch in my heart."
Yuan Meng was born through artificial insemination to his parents Yuan Zi and Huan Huan, who arrived in France in 2012.
"I have known Yuan Meng for five and a half years, and every time I see him, this same emotion comes back," said Brigitte, who is known as Yuan Meng's "godmother".
"I have a hard time analyzing it. It generates a feeling of zenitude. We look at it and we don't want to be anywhere else. But why, I don't know."
Yuan Meng survived after his birth in 2017, but his fragile twin brother, born 14 minutes earlier, unfortunately died just a few hours after birth.
Beauval Park Zoo announced Yuan Meng's impending departure in May. A zoo public relations official told China Daily that they are planning a farewell event for Yuan Meng's fans, but the date has yet to be decided.
The French first lady also went to see Yuandudu and Huanlili, twin panda sisters of Yuan Meng born in the zoo on Aug 2, 2021.
French football star Kylian Mbappe and Chinese Olympic diving gold medalist Zhang Jiaqi were named "godfather" and "godmother" of the twins, while attending the naming ceremony for the twins in November 2021.
Most giant pandas around the world are on loan from China. According to the loan agreement, cubs born abroad have to be sent to the Chinese breeding program before they turn 4 to expand the gene pool. Yuan Meng's return has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild and an additional 400 living in captivity.
Its population has started to increase slightly due to the breeding programs in China.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature now lists the giant panda as "vulnerable", a category between "near threatened" and "endangered".