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Farewell to Bei Bei: Fans celebrate the giant panda cub before departure

Bei Bei the panda (ABC7 photo){ }
Bei Bei the panda (ABC7 photo)
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Fans are flocking to the National Zoo this weekend, to bid farewell to Bei Bei.

The 4-year-old Giant Panda cub will depart for China on Tuesday morning. All cubs must return to China once they reach four years of age, as part of an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

Fans traveled from near and far, including the Cocchiola family from Connecticut. "We've been to a couple of big zoos, Bronx, Roger Williams, but they don't have the giant pandas, and Bei Bei was something the girls really wanted to see," says Dan Cocchiola.

The Zoo has planned activities for both Saturday and Sunday, including dumplings and hot chocolate both mornings, a "friendship and luck" bead bracelet station (Bei Bei's mother chose a Chinese red knot on his first birthday, in a traditional ceremony) and postcards that can be written to Bei Bei, and will be mailed to him in China.

Fred and Betty Kirchner made the trip from Richmond, VA. They've visited the pandas several times a year throughout their relationship, and just married.

"We started coming here when we first started dating, and the pandas really brought us together," says Betty. "I wish that he could stay, because he's such a magical panda. He's so funny and does such antics and everything, he still thinks that he's a baby."

"I wasn't a panda fan until I met Betty, and then from all of the pandas, we've been coming here all these years, and I'm sorry to see this one go," says Fred.

Farewell festivities at the Zoo continue Sunday. While nearby Metro stops are closed for planned updates, Metro is running a free shuttle bus to the Zoo from Van Ness.

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If you can't make it to the Zoo to say goodbye in person, the Zoo's Panda Cam 1 is focusing exclusively on Bei Bei until he leaves.

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