Washington DC's giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are set to be loaded onto ... trends now
Tian Tian, 26, Mei Xiang, 25, and their three-year-old cub Xiao Qi Ji, are setting off on Wednesday on a 19-hour journey aboard the 'Panda Express' to Chengdu, China.
They are being packed up into specially designed crates with 220lbs of bamboo and plenty of apples for their voyage by FedEx van and plane.
Their departure means the panda house at The National Zoo will stand empty for the first time in 23 years and it is not yet clear whether they will be replaced with a new pair.
Speaking at a farewell event, the zoo's Director Brandi Smith comforted despondent fans, saying 'the future is bright for giant pandas'.
Giant Panda Xiao Qi Ji hangs upside down from a tree in its enclosure at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington
The bears will be loaded into specially designed crates for the 19-hour journey by van and plane to Chengdu, China
She said: 'It’s a moment of joy because this is one more step in 50 years of a successful giant panda conservation program, and hopefully the beginning of 50 more years.
'Please know the future is bright for giant pandas. We remain committed to our program, and we look forward to celebrating with all of you when pandas can return to D.C.'
The trio are being sent to a 'panda base' at the China Wildlife Conservation Association in Chengdu.
Bryan Amaral, senior curator at the National Zoo, told NBC: 'It's a place where they have lots and lots of giant pandas, very similar to what you would see — how our giant pandas live here, very similar to that.'
Smithsonian zookeepers will keep the bears company on their 19-hour journey.
They will be loaded into their crates and onto a special FedEx truck on Wednesday morning and then drive to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
From there, it's all