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February 5, 2010
Giant pandas head to China
WASHINGTON (AP) -- They were treated like pop idols, except they were shipped in travel crates. Adoring crowds and television viewers watched Thursday as American-born giant pandas Mei Lan and Tai Shan were loaded onto a special cargo jet for a flight to their new homes in China for breeding. Normally placid, 3-year-old Mei Lan from Zoo Atlanta whirled and paced in her crate as flashbulbs popped. Tai Shan, a 4½-year-old born in Washington, hid at first but was drawn into view as his longtime keepers at the National Zoo knelt silently at his crate to say goodbye, hand-feeding him slices of apples and pears. China lent Tai Shan's and Mei Lan's parents to U.S. zoos for conservation, and now their cubs will become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land. About 1,600 giant pandas live in the wild, and another 290 are in captive-breeding programs worldwide, mainly in China.(19 images)

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Giant panda Tai Shan is photographed right before leaving the National Zoo for China in a steel crate in Washington, on Thursday, Feb. 4. AP / Jacquelyn Martin


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Giant panda Tai Shan eats bamboo in his enclosure on Feb. 1, at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington. Tai Shan, once dubbed "butterstick" for his tiny size, was born there in 2005 to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, themselves gifts from China. A stipulation of the gift is that all cubs must be sent to China. AFP / Getty Images / Tim Sloan



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Two visitors at the National Zoo push through the bamboo near the giant panda compound to try to get a view of Tai Shan in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Jan. 30. AP / Ann Heisenfelt



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Giant panda bear Tai Shan walks across a snow-covered log at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park Feb. 3, in Washington, D.C.. Wednesday was Tai Shan's last day at the zoo before being shipped to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in China. Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla



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Mei Xiang, mother of 4-year-old panda Tai Shan, rolls herself down a snowy hill on Tai Shan's last day at the National Zoo in Washington, on Wednesday, Feb. 3. AP / Jacquelyn Martin



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Giant panda bear Tai Shan sits in the snow and eats bamboo at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park Feb. 3, in Washington, D.C.. Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla



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Amanda Parson, left, and Deanna Williston wear homemade panda bear knit hats while saying goodbye to giant panda bear Tai Shan at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park Feb. 3, in Washington, D.C. Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla



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Panda keeper Laurie Thomspon, touches the nose of giant panda Tai Shan while saying goodbye just before he leaves the National Zoo for China in Washington, on Thursday, Feb. 4. AP / Jacquelyn Martin



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Workers move a specially designed crate holding Tai Shan, one of the Smithsonian National Zoo's giant pandas, prior to him leaving the zoo in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4. AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb



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Four and a half-year-old giant panda Tai Shan is loaded onto the "FedEx Panda Express" to leave the National Zoo for China in Washington, on Thursday, Feb. 4. Two giant pandas born in American zoos were headed to China by special cargo jet Thursday to become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) AP / Jacquelyn Martin



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Tai Shan, the giant panda from Washington, rides in his crate to be loaded onto a cargo plane and shipped back to China, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. (AP Photo/ Susan Walsh) AP / Susan Walsh



panda12.jpg
Nicole Meese feeds giant panda Tai Shan prior to being loaded onto a cargo plane at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, before heading to China. Two giant pandas born in American zoos were headed to China by special cargo jet Thursday to become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land. (AP Photo/ Susan Walsh) AP / Susan Walsh



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Nicole Meese feeds giant panda Tai Shan on a cargo plane at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, before heading to China. Two giant pandas born in American zoos were headed to China by special cargo jet Thursday to become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land. (AP Photo/ Susan Walsh) AP / Susan Walsh



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Trainer Nicole Meese feeds giant panda Tai Shan after being loaded onto a cargo plane to be shipped back to China, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. (AP Photo/ Susan Walsh) AP / Susan Walsh



panda15.jpg
Tai Shan, one of the Smithsonian National Zoo's giant pandas, looks out from a specially designed crate prior to leaving the zoo in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4. The 4 and 1/ 2 year old male panda was driven to Dulles International Airport before flying directly to Chengdu, China. AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb



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Senior Zoo Curator Brandie Smith, feeds four and a half-year-old giant panda Tai Shan a piece of pear shortly before the panda left the National Zoo for China in a steel crate in Washington,D.C. on Feb. 4. AFP / Getty Images / Jaquelyn Martin



panda17.jpg
Mei Lan, a 3-year-old female giant panda from Zoo Atlanta, is lifted onto a Federal Express cargo plane, called the "FedEx Panda Express", prior to her departure from Atlanta to China Thursday, Feb. 4. Mei Lan is Zoo Atlanta's firstborn giant panda. Before heading to China, the plane made a stop in Washington, D.C., where it picked up Tai Shan, a 4-year-old male giant panda born at the National Zoo. The two giant pandas will become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land. AP / Rich Addicks



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Mei Lan, a 3-year-old female giant panda from Zoo Atlanta is shown to the media prior to her departure from Atlanta to China Thursday, Feb. 4, aboard a Federal Express cargo plane, called the "FedEx Panda Express". (AP Photo/ Rich Addicks) AP / Rich Addicks



panda19.jpg
People watch as the plane carrying giant pandas Mei Lan of Atlanta, and Tai Shan of Washington, taxis for departure for a trip to China, Thursday, Feb. 4, at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. AP / Susan Walsh



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