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Panda express: First pair to enter the United States in 21 years takes off from China


San Diego’s newest giant pandas are en route from China to California, according to Chinese state media – marking the first time Beijing has granted new panda loans to the United States in two decades.

The two pandas, Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, left the Bifengxia base of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province on Wednesday night, taking a chartered flight to their new home, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The rare loan was finalized in February, just months after Chinese leader Xi Jinping suggested sending pandas to the San Diego Zoo as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.”

Xin Bao, a female born in July 2020, is a “gentle and well-behaved” panda, while Yun Chuan, a male born in July 2019, is “smart and lively,” CCTV reported.

They were given a celebratory farewell at the Chinese base, attended by American and Chinese dignitaries, including performances and a gift exchange, according to a statement from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

To ensure their health and safety on the journey, their team has prepared meals of fresh bamboo, bamboo shoots, fruits, vegetables and a specially-made cornbread known as “wotou,” CCTV reported.

A screengrab from a video shows people bidding farewell to pandas Xin Bao and Yun Chuan in Ya'an City, China, on June 26, 2024.

Five breeders and veterinary experts from both countries are also on the flight, with the Chinese experts staying on for three months after the pair arrive to help them “adapt to the new living environment,” according to CCTV.

The pandas won’t be viewable to the public for several more weeks while they acclimate – and once veterinary teams confirm they’re ready to meet their excited