The Smithsonian's National Zoo on Wednesday kicked off a series of public events as it prepared to send off Giant Panda Bao Bao back to China.
On the same day, a group of Bao Bao's keepers met with saddened fans, who have watched the female panda grow to a three-and-half-year animal after being born in the zoo on Aug. 23, 2013.
"All of our fans are very sad to see her go, but we know that this is a really important step for her, giving her the opportunity to return to the breeding center in China and hopefully produce offspring of her own," said Michael Brown-Palsgrove, a giant panda curator.
"It's sort of like sending your kid off to college," he said. "Bao Bao is more independent than our male cub."
Laurie Thompson, another keeper, added that Bao Bao hates carrots.
Keepers assured panda fans that Bao Bao has well prepared for her 16-hour direct flight to China's southwestern city of Chengdu, but unlike human, she is not expected to experience any jetlag.
Kate Masters, who came to bid farewell to Bao Bao with her six-year-old daughter Genevieve, said it is definitely a loss for the Zoo, nevertheless, she felt exciting for Bao Bao.
"I came three times every year to see the pandas. They are my favorite animals in the zoo," Genevieve said.
Following the zoo keepers' meeting, the Chinese embassy on Thursday will bring the Chinese traditional food of dumplings to the zoo for panda fans.
In addition, a ceremony will be organized by the zoo on Feb 21, to bid farewell to Bao Bao.