(ECNS) -- Giant pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji arrived on Thursday night in Chengdu, southwestern China's Sichuan province. Their beloved fans in the U.S. have bid farewell to the giant pandas on social media platforms and sent blessings to the family.
Before departure on Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., several farewell ceremonies were held for the giant panda family.
Brandie Smith, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo said that they are an iconic animal for the zoo, for the District of Columbia, and for the country as well. "This is a hard morning and it has been a hard week," she said.
But she added that it's also a moment of joy because "this is one more step in 50 years of this successful giant panda conservation program."
American netizens also expressed their reluctance to say goodbye and their love for the giant pandas on social media platforms.
“Was just a kid when the first pandas came to the U.S. Got lucky enough to be in DC last month but gonna miss them. Thanks for the memories - Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji," a local netizen said.
“As a native Washingtonian, their departure makes me very sad. They brought a lot of joy to people," another said.
“@POTUS please work things out with China to bring beloved Pandas back for another 50 years. More generations need to see, understand and love them,” a netizen added.
“Thanks for taking such good care of our beloved giant pandas for all these years! Hope you will get new pandas in the near future, but no one can replace Mei Xiang, Tian Tian’s family,” another said.
It has been more than 20 years since Mei Xiang and Tian Tian left China on a trip to the United States. The two pandas arrived in the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2000 and their lease was extended three times. During their stay in Washington, Mei Xiang gave birth to four giant pandas—Tai Shan, Bao Bao, Bei Bei and Xiao Qi Ji.
The first three cubs have returned to China according to the agreement that giant pandas should return to China when they are four. Tai Shan and Bao Bao have already had their own offspring.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Thursday that after Mei Xiang’s family returns home, the US still hosts four giant pandas who live in Zoo Atlanta and will continue to be the bridge of friendship connecting people in China and the US.
"China will continue enhancing cooperation with the U.S. and other countries to contribute to the conservation of pandas and other endangered species," he added.