Farewell to Atlanta Panda
Mei Lan moves to China with D.C. partner
In the past three and half years, Mei Lan, the first ever giant panda born in Zoo Atlanta, has become an integral part of millions of Atlantans' lives. From her birth on September 6, 2006, to her first examination to her 100-day naming ceremony to her first step, Mei Lan has been the darling of the news cameras and the zoo's biggest visitor draw.
But now the panda named for its birth city is going to its cultural home on the other side of the globe.
Mei Lan, which is Chinese for "Beautiful Atlanta," will be flown to Chengdu China, on Thursday. She'll be joined by Tai Shan, a four-year-old panda born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Both will fly on the FedEx Panda Express, a brand new Boeing 777 decorated with giant panda images.
"We are very sad she has to go but we know it must happen," said Heather Baker Roberts, Mei Lan's keeper and trainer.
This past Saturday, despite a cold and rainy day, giant panda fans came to Zoo Atlanta to attend a farewell celebration for Mei Lan.
While people were snapping photos, Mei Lan enjoyed her favorite bamboo snack. Her main diet has consisted of mostly bamboo and sometimes bananas, sugar canes, and occasional treats called leaf eater biscuits.
Although she had a big appetite, she was very picky in selecting what she ate, zookeepers said. She rejected two thirds of the food offered to her and she ate whenever she wanted to.
"In Chengdu, Mei Lan will have to eat apples instead of bananas," giant panda keeper Joseph T. Svoke said. "Apples are more cost effective in China."
One hundred pounds of bamboo will be stored on the plane with some panda toys, so that Mei Lan will have a happy journey.
During the farewell celebration, fans signed goodbye cards with well wishes. The cards were put in a FedEx drop box that will go on the plane with Mei Lan. Miniature pandas and collectable pins, as well as festive refreshments and cakes were available for the human partygoers.
Baker Roberts is going to China with Mei Lan to help her adjust. She will stay one week before returning to Atlanta.
"It's going to be my first time in China," Baker Roberts said. "I'm really excited."
Only four U.S. zoos are home to giant pandas: Zoo Atlanta, the National Zoo, the San Diego Zoo in California, and the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. In November 1999, Zoo Atlanta welcomed its first ever giant panda couple, Yang Yang and Lun Lun from Chengdu, China, the parents of Mei Lan. The panda family have been celebrities in the city ever since, especially after the birth Mei Lan.
In China, Mei Lan and Tai Shan will participate in a breeding program aimed at increasing the world's giant panda population. Giant pandas are currently on the endangered species list. Only about 1,600 giant pandas are known to live in the wild, most of them in Sichuan Province of China.
For more information about giant pandas, visit websites for Zoo Atlanta, The National Zoo, The Memphis Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo.
You can also check out a Kid Reporter slide show about the pandas at the National Zoo.
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