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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

KingsKid

February 4th, 2010
1:22 pm

I watched the day you came into this world and have followed all of your time here in Atlanta.You will be missed Mei Lan but good luck on this next journey of your life. Your paw prints will always be imprinted on the city of Atlanta.

Jamie Gumbrecht

February 4th, 2010
1:07 pm

Ryan — thanks for pointing out the error. It has been fixed. To be clear, my blog posts are not edited or proofread by anybody else on the AJC staff. I do the best that I can, but this is one of four stories I am writing today, in addition to work with photos and videos and a two-hour Twitter class I’m teaching this afternoon. I do the best I can, but I am human, and there are mistakes. The good news is that they can be corrected quickly. Thanks again!

Jamie Gumbrecht

February 4th, 2010
1:05 pm

BigdaddyJ — Fred has it right. Money donated to the “Give So They Stay” campaign went to keep Mei Lan’s parents, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, and their second cub, Xi Lan, in Atlanta longer. Mei Lan always was expected to return to China for breeding.

Ryan

February 4th, 2010
1:01 pm

Again with the proofreading! If this is the stuff being put on the web, I need to apply for a job!

(Reeds advice to her: “be fruitful and multiply.”)

Someone forgot the apostrophe!

WhatDoIKnow

February 4th, 2010
12:56 pm

Oh no! No more panda stories in the AJC!

Fred

February 4th, 2010
12:53 pm

@BigdaddyJ – Mei Lan was always going to China. The donations are to keep 2 (or maybe 3, don’t remember for sure) of the adult pandas here.

urbanredneck

February 4th, 2010
12:43 pm

Guess they got to get her out of Georgia before bear season starts again next fall. Happy trails, cutie pie.

BigdaddyJ

February 4th, 2010
12:38 pm

Jamie – what happens to all the money people donated in trying to keep her here?

Daisy

February 4th, 2010
12:36 pm

Jamie Gumbrecht, I’m glad you’re here to clear things up! You have no idea how much “crap” you just saved us from. It all starts with one misinformed poster to turn things ugly. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, this is a sad day for those of us who care. I wish you the very best in health and life, Sweet Baby!

TheStandard

February 4th, 2010
12:24 pm

I love how everyone say “going back” when she’s never been. I hope she stays brave during the flight. She was really pacing the other day.