City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

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,

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

30 comments Add your comment

Jamie Gumbrecht

February 4th, 2010
12:10 pm

James — Mei Lan isn’t going to the Beijing Zoo. She’s going to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Zoo Atlanta’s giant panda curator, told me today it’s a nice facility that will give Mei Lan more room than she had at Zoo Atlanta, as well as the opportunity to breed. (Both her grandmothers live there, as well, although it’s unlikely they’ll meet.) Here’s more info:


February 4th, 2010
12:09 pm

I have been to that panda conservatory in Chengdu…she will have an amazing space to roam and live happily with many other pandas. Hao yun, Mei Lan!


February 4th, 2010
12:04 pm

We shouldn’t be sending these pandas back to China. I saw first hand this summer the conditions of the Beijing Zoo. One word: deplorable.

Jamie Gumbrecht

February 4th, 2010
11:57 am

$$ — event costs haven’t been revealed, but FedEx donated transportation for the panda cubs from Atlanta to D.C. to China. Here’s more info:


February 4th, 2010
11:53 am

The Zoo pays for it you ninny.


February 4th, 2010
11:52 am

@$$, WOW – ever think about how you can’t put a price tag on an endangered species and the enjoyment that Mei Lan’s birth brought to this city? It is refreshing to see some GOOD news instead of war, economic woes and death.


February 4th, 2010
11:14 am

So exactly how much did all this hoop-la send off for Mei-Lan cost the city of Atlanta? Not much of real news to report this morning as the tv crews and all the brass were there for the send-off.


February 4th, 2010
10:47 am

Heartbeaking… Safe travels Atlanta Beauty!


February 4th, 2010
10:42 am

Sad. We moved from DC to Atlanta shortly after Tai Shan was born at the National Zoo, and we were in ATL for Mei Lan’s birth. I’m glad we got to see her in December. Safe travels!


February 4th, 2010
10:39 am

Farewell Mei Lan. I watched your birth on Panda Cam, and followed you through your first year of life. I am a little sad to see you go, but I know you will be okay. The picture of you in the crate breaks my heart. Goodbye sweet girl.