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Happier times: 4-year-old giant panda Yun Zi plays in the snow at the San Diego Zoo back in late August 2013. Farewell, little guy.
As the adage says, all good things must come to an end. This includes the residency of a furry, adorable giant panda bear that has been a staple at the San Diego Zoo since 2009.
According to the San Diego Zoo website, 4-year-old Yun Zi left the zoo Thursday, bound for his ancestral homeland in China. The panda was crated up and driven to LAX, where he then caught a flight to China, zoo officials said. He was accompanied on the trip by his handler and veterinarian.
The giant pandas are at the San Diego Zoo on a research loan from the Chinese government, which can call the bears back to their native country after they turn 3 years old.
The zoo is one of four in the United States that partake in the special panda loan program, which helps animal specialists learn more about endangered species and breeding.
Yun Zi – which means “Son of Cloud” – was born at the San Diego Zoo on Aug. 5, 2009, to mother Bai Yun and father Gao Gao.
Over the years the lovable, good-natured panda was amassed fans all over the world. He’s also grown up before the eyes of San Diego locals and visitors alike, celebrating his birthday each year with a special party and playing with his many siblings at the zoo’s famous panda exhibit.
As of September 2013, “little” Yun Zi weighed nearly 200 pounds and, according to zookeepers, is on track to one day become as large as his famous grandfather, Pan Pan.
The panda is known for his playful spirit, which includes a bit of a rambunctious streak, as seen during his “terrible twos” phase at the zoo. He’s also been described by zookeepers as smart, fun and a little destructive, just as a young tot should be.
During his second birthday at the zoo, Yun Zi memorably knocked over his birthday cake, as if throwing a mini temper tantrum. However, by the time he hit three years old, he was more mature, eating his special cake like a big boy. His fourth birthday last year also went off swimmingly.
With Yun Zi’s big move comes a new stage in his panda life.
According to zoo officials, keepers spent a lot of time preparing the panda for this transition, crate training him for weeks in anticipation of his long trip home.
And, while this news might seem unbearable for local panda lovers, there are still many cute pandas left at the San Diego Zoo for visitors to admire. This includes Xiao Liwu, the little cub born to Bai Yun and Gao Gao in July 2012.
The pandas can be adored and gawked at daily via the zoo’s Panda Cam.