Giant panda enthusiasts are thrilled by the announcement from the China Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center on Wednesday, confirming the upcoming return of Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their 3-year-old son, Xiao Qi Ji, to China.
The three giant pandas bid farewell to their beloved fans in the U.S. during a media event held at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington on November 8, local time, as reported by Xinhua News Agency.
According to previous U.S. media reports, the panda family will get into their already-familiar transport crates, board a truck, and arrive at Dulles International Airport to take the Boeing 777 "Panda Express" back to China.
They will land in Chengdu, a megalopolis at the foot of the mountains of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, the giant pandas' native turf and will quarantine for a month at the Shenshuping Panda Center in the Wolong National Nature Reserve, a UNESCO-recognized area of protected land that's home to a third of the world's pandas, U.S. media reported.
The news of the giant panda family's return became a trending topic on China's Sina Weibo social media platform on Wednesday evening, with nearly 400,000 viewers expressing their joy and excitement over the pandas' impending return.
Some Chinese panda lovers said they would stay up late on Wednesday to welcome the adorable "diplomats" which have been staying in the U.S. since 2000.
"I'm so excited that they will finally come back," a Chinese netizen said, wishing the panda family a safe and sound journey home.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo organized a nine-day event from September 23 to October 1, dedicated to providing their thousands of devoted fans with an opportunity to bid farewell to the giant panda family.
The zoo officials previously said that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, both 25 years old, were heading back because of their advanced ages. Their cub Xiao Qi Ji, meaning "little miracle" in Chinese, would also go because he is nearing breeding age, according to the Washington Post.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in Washington in 2000 and their fourth cub, Xiao Qi Ji, was born in 2020. Xiao Qi Ji's siblings returned to China when each of them was 2 or 3 years old, according to U.S. media reports.
The giant panda has become a symbol of Washington, along with the White House and the Capitol, as the zoo has housed eight giant pandas since 1972. However, after the panda family return to China, panda-maniacal Washington DC will be panda-less for the first time in nearly a quarter century, U.S. media reported.
By that time, the Zoo Atlanta will become the only zoo in the U.S. to have giant pandas, and their loan agreement with China for the pandas is also set to expire at the end of next year.