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Zoo Atlanta panda Mei Lan on her way to D.C.,China

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Mei Lan prepares to board her plane, a 209 1/2-foot 777 Freighter, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 2010. AJC/John Spink

For the first time since her birth inside Zoo Atlanta in 2006, Mei Lan is outside the Grant Park habitat, and up in the air.

Atlanta’s famous panda flies today to Washington, D.C., where she’ll be joined by her cousin, National Zoo panda Tai Shan. They’ll fly to China together on a direct 14-hour FedEx Express flight.

The pandas and their luggage will be the only cargo on board. Here are more photos from Mei Lan’s departure, and still more photos from her farewell party last weekend.

Zoo Atlanta officials said Mei Lan is a calm, laid-back bear they don’t expect to stress much over travel, or even her new surroundings. She had a normal night at Zoo Atlanta on Wednesday, but knew something was up this morning when keepers arrived two hours early. She noshed on a breakfast of bamboo and leafeater treats, then went into her crate about 5:40 a.m. with no problems. Her reward: sugar cane, her favorite food.

After a caravan to the airport and a ride past dozens of waiting photographers, Mei Lan was lifted into the 777 Freighter emblazoned with panda logos. Shortly after 8 a.m., the door was closed, the plane taxied and the flight took off.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed agreed it was fine to be “reflective, or even wistful” about Mei Lan’s departure, but important, too, to remember that she’s a healthy member of an endangered species, and by moving to China, she can help her kind survive. (Reed’s advice to her: “be fruitful and multiply.”) Scientists estimate there are about 1,600 Giant Pandas in the wild. About 300 live in captivity, mostly in China.

Three of them still live at Zoo Atlanta. Boy cub Xi Lan should be weaned toward the end of March and will transition to a solitary enclosure, like other adolescent and adult pandas.  Come spring, Zoo Atlanta officials expect Lun Lun and  Yang Yang, Mei Lan and Xi Lan’s parents,  to try for another cub.

Want to go? Zoo Atlanta. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. $13.99-$18.99, free for kids younger than 2. 800 Cherokee Ave. inside Grant Park, Atlanta. 404-624-9453, www.zooatlanta.org.

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30 comments Add your comment

Michelle Stevens

February 7th, 2010
8:36 am

Mei Lan, I have been a true follower of you since the moment they announced Lun Lun was going to have a baby panda. (Even though it was via internet). You will be greatly missed and will always be “Atlanta’s Beauty”. Michelle Stevens Blountville, Tennessee

Dona Cucich

February 5th, 2010
1:36 pm

I hope we will continue to get reports on Mei Lan in China. She’s become such a part of our lives. Maybe we won’t miss her quite so much if we get to hear about her from time to time. I also wish there was a webcam at Chengdu. Maybe one day. Mei Lan, thanks for the memories and remember – you’ll always be a native Atlantan.

[...] finally, although I posted a quick update from yesterday’s farewell at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a different version ran in print. If you want to see, here it [...]

» Shipping Pandas to China Hotbits Blog

February 5th, 2010
3:02 am

[...] giant pandas remain at the Atlanta Zoo, Mei Lan’s parents and an infant. Link -via [...]

Amber

February 5th, 2010
12:10 am

I have seen Mei Lan once last year at the Zoo Atlanta. Cute and adorable! Grand to know she gonna to live at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. ‘Cause I am from Chengdu, and I have been to this Panda research center many times. It is a nice place, far from the city, surrounded by bamboo trees. I am sure Mei Lan will have a happy life there. And in May I am going to visit my family in Chengdu, hope at that time I can see Mei Lan again there. And I will tell everybody in my home town that there are so many peope in Atlanta miss Mei Lan so much.

[...] giant pandas remain at the Atlanta Zoo, Mei Lan’s parents and an infant. Link -via [...]

elainer7

February 4th, 2010
3:12 pm

Good bye Mei Lan. You are taking a piece of my heart with you.

Blkshephered

February 4th, 2010
3:02 pm

Good Riddance! I mean I am an animal lover as I own three shephereds.and they are well cared for but enough is enough already! They care more about this animal then all the hundreds of kids here in atlanta living in poverty. the homeless mean nothing. The sick kids in the hospital wards dont even get this kind of attention. And I seem to notice only a certain Type of people preening over this animal. If they used Half as much energy and coverage to finding homes for some of the Human orphans perhaps they wouldnt be over run with so many children without a home. So I am Glad to see it go! Now just maybe they can channel some of that same Interest time and Money on some of the orphan children of atlanta. Its a sad day, when animals become No.1 and humans not even second or third priority. Wake up United States!

panda"razzi"

February 4th, 2010
2:19 pm

I shed a tear or two or three! Bittersweet!

D MASE

February 4th, 2010
1:31 pm

LOTS OF ATTENTION AT FEDEX THIS MORNING….ONE THE BEST EXHIBITS ANY ZOO CAN OFFER….SO LONG…..