PARIS — Ensconced in a glass cage lined with bamboo shoots, the first panda ever born in France bid ‘’adieu’’ to the French zoo where it grew up and set off Tuesday for its new home in China.
Named Yuan Meng, the 120-kilogram (264-pound) panda peered out of the cage as staff at the Beauval Zoo south of Paris paid an emotional farewell. Its name means ‘’the realization of a wish” or “accomplishment of a dream.”
A crowd of well-wishers waved goodbye as the trailer pulling the cage rolled out of the zoo, the words “Bon Voyage Yuan Meng’’ painted on its sides.
Yuan Meng was born in 2017 to parents at Beauval on a 10-year loan from China. The mother later gave birth to twin pandas. All the offspring are meant to be eventually be sent to China.
Yuan Meng's departure was initially delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the trip was long planned, Beauval Zoo director Rodolphe Delord described the day as "heartbreaking.''
Giant pandas have difficulty breeding and so the births were particularly welcomed. There are about 1,800 pandas living in the wild in China and a few hundred in captivity worldwide.
While China for decades gifted friendly nations with its unofficial mascot as part of a policy of “panda diplomacy,'' the country now loans pandas to zoos on commercial terms.
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