The Smithsonian National Zoo’s star giant panda Bao Bao will leave D.C. at the start of next calendar year, the zoo announced Thursday.
As one of the four pandas whose frolicking is broadcast 24/7 to a national audience, Bao Bao has become a National Zoo staple.
The move is part of the zoo’s cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Once a panda cub turns four-years-old, the zoo is obligated to return the pandas to China where they take part in a breeding program.
“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,” Brandie Smith, the associate director of animal care sciences, said in the release.
Bao Bao will join her brother Tian Shen. Cub Bei Bei will be at the zoo until 2019.
The zoo is currently planning special goodbye events for Bao Bao’s fans, according to the release.