A staff member of Sichuan Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau checks the condition of giant panda Bao Bao at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, Feb. 22, 2017. A charter flight carrying Bao Bao, a giant panda born in the United States, landed in Chengdu, after a 16 and a half hour flight. (Xinhua/Liu Kun)
CHENGDU, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- After a 16-hour flight, American-born panda celebrity Bao Bao arrived home in southwest China Wednesday night, apparently looking well.
The FedEx Boeing 777 Freighter, painted with picture of a giant bamboo-eating panda, landed at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in Sichuan Province at 7:10 p.m. local time.
Local quarantine officials cleared Bao Bao to disembark at 8:00 p.m. The 3-year-old female panda was taken care of by American keeper Marty Dearie during the flight.
Dearie said Bao Bao ate and slept the whole way. "She ate as much as she would during the same time period at our zoo," he said. "It's gonna be a little sad... but we are very proud that we sent her back."
Bao Bao will stay in quarantine for a month in a 100-square-meter enclosure at the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda in Chengdu, according to Tang Cheng who will look after her during her quarantine
"The public will be able to see Bao Bao when she is given a clean bill of health following her quarantine," Tang said.
Tang cleaned Bao Bao's new home on Wednesday morning, and prepared a meal for her in the afternoon. She will have local bamboo, apples, carrots and steamed corn bread for her welcome feast.
Tang was excited when he was told he was to be Bao Bao's keeper. "I'm so looking forward to it," he said. "But I'm a bit nervous too. She's had so much attention from home and abroad."
Bao Bao, which means "precious" or "treasure" in Chinese, was born on Aug. 23, 2013 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., the second panda born there.
Her parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian moved to the American zoo in 2000 under a collaboration agreement between China and the United States.
According to the agreement, panda cubs born in the United States to parents on loan from China must be returned to China.
Giant pandas are among the world's most vulnerable and rare creatures, with a known population of only 1,600, mostly in China.
China has panda collaborations with 17 zoos in 12 countries. Currently more than 40 giant pandas are living abroad.
Bao Bao is the eleventh overseas-born panda to be returned to China.Before her departure, tens of thousands of fans flocked to Washington zoo to bid farewell over the weekend, causing heavy traffic jams.
"I am gonna be sad when I have to say goodbye to her, but I know it is the right decision," Dearie said.
HOME SWEET HOME
The Dujiangyan panda base, on the other hand, has done all it can to make Bao Bao feel at home. Her enclosure includes an indoor habitat and an outdoor playground. There are rubber balls and tires in the playground, along with fresh bamboo and apples.
"Welcome home Bao Bao!" the center declared on the country's popular Weibo microblogging space.
Though Bao Bao does not blog, the message set Chinese netizens cheering and many are anxious to meet her, but they will have to wait. Deng Linhua, a vet with the center, said that during the quarantine period, they will collect her stool and test her blood. Keepers will keep careful notes of her diet and activity.
Wei Ming, a researcher with the center, said that pandas sometimes get upset after a long flight, and it is the keepers' job to calm them down.
"Pandas from the United States eat local bamboo and biscuits, but we will gradually introduce Chinese 'wotou' (steamed bread made from corn, soybean, rice and egg) and fresh homegrown bamboo," Wei said.
Since Bao Bao has been living in the United States since she was born, she does not understand much Chinese. The center selected Tang as her keeper because he can speak some English and better communicate both with Bao Bao and his counterparts from Washington.
Dearie, the panda's American keeper, is not worried. "She learns very quickly. I don't think it is gonna take her more than a couple of days. She will be happy."