San Diegans were stunned to learn Monday that the world famous San Diego Zoo would be returning their beloved giant pandas to China at the end of April as a long-term contract comes to an end.
Within minutes of the announcement, hundreds of locals had already chimed in on social media about what the departure of Bai-Yun, 27, and her son, Xiao Liwu, 6, meant to them.
"Sad to see them go. 'Little Gift' is my favorite," Barbara Vollen said, referring to the meaning behind Xiao Liwu's name.
Joseph Vega recalled working there when the giant pandas were introduced more than two decades ago.
"Crazy I remember working there at 18 because they got the panda's (sic)," Vegas said.
Bai-Yun and her mate Shi-Shi arrived at the San Diego Zoo from the Wolong Panda Preserve in China in 1996. Through the use of artificial insemination, the pair birthed the first cub to survive in captivity -- Hua Mei.
Several social media commenters noted the pandas' departure as a tribute to the success of the San Diego Zoo's breeding program.
"It's a huge conservation achievement, but yes, it is sad to see them go," Karyl Carmignani said.
Bai-Yun birthed another five pandas, including the young Xiao Liwu, while living at the San Diego Zoo.
"That's fine, San Diego Zoo is part of their breeding program with China, and now it's time to go home," Eva Antal said adding a smile icon.
To some, the move was not unexpected.
"[China does] loan them to other countries, but they must always be returned. We’ve always known at some point they would be returned to China," Linda Beccue said.
Some noted feeling lucky to have seen them before the two were sent back to their homeland while others said they would have to make one more trip to see Bai-Yun and Xiao Liwu before they are gone.
Visitors will have until April 27 to say goodbye to see the pair of pandas at their exhibit at the San Diego Zoo's Panda Canyon.
The San Diego Zoo encouraged Twitter users to use the hashtag #Pandas4Ever share their favorite memories of the giant pandas during their more than two decades with the zoo.