First giant panda born in France Yuan Meng settled into a customized cage filled with bamboo, starting his journey to China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Tuesday after a long-haul departure from Paris. Brigitte Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, saw him off at the airport.
Before the panda’s boarding, the first lady wistfully showed her photo with the four-month “mini bear” to Xinhua. “I’m going to visit him. I’m sure he’ll be very happy in his country, but he won’t forget France,” she said, noting that Yuan Meng represents an “absolutely unbreakable friendship” between the two countries.
Visitors at the Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan, central France, gathered Tuesday morning to bid farewell to Yuan Meng ahead of his departure back to China, 10 days before the giant panda’s sixth birthday. Waving flags with Yuan Meng’s photos, his fans were queuing in the cold wind hoping to catch a glimpse of the transfer truck and say goodbye to the very first panda cub born in France.
People watch the giant panda Yuan Meng at Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan, France, on July 24, 2023. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)
Just a day before, a ceremony for Yuan Meng’s last public appearance in France was held at the zoo where he was served with fresh bamboo and cut apples. While people were using their cameras and phones to record every move, the chubby panda acted more like a superstar than the shy cub he was five years ago and posed for the cameras.
“Of course, we are a little heartbroken because he is leaving, but he can now continue to live a good life. What matters most to us is raising public awareness about the conservation of these extraordinary animals, which contributes to the conservation of the species and genetic diversity,” Rodolphe Delord, general director of the zoo, said at the ceremony.
“A veterinarian and I will accompany Yuan Meng on the flight to take care of him. We will stay in China for a few days to see how he’s getting on, and then hand him over to our Chinese colleagues,” said Delphine Pouvreau, manager of the koala and panda division at the Beauval Zoo.
Yuan Meng was given a final farewell on the tarmac by Mrs. Macron before being loaded onto a China Airlines flight to Chengdu, in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.
Yuan Meng has been a veritable “idol” since birth. According to the zoo, about 26 million netizens followed the live stream to watch his birth on social media. Meanwhile, he has also attracted broad attention from the French public and media.
French President Emmanuel Macron (C, Front) reacts with the panda cub Yuan Meng at Beauval zoo in Saint-Aignan, central France, on Dec. 16, 2017. (Xinhua/Beauval zoo)
Patrice and Veronique are fans of Yuan Meng. Wearing panda-patterned clothing, they came to say goodbye to their idol. “I like him rolling in the mud … that’s why he’s never that white anyway,” Patrice said with emotion visible in his eyes.
They designed a T-shirt with 36 images from when the cub was born to now and told Xinhua they might add more after their visit to Chengdu in the future. “The panda was endangered, but now, thanks to the efforts of both of our countries, the situation has been improved. We will miss him, but it’s for his good. He will be able to meet a female and have babies,” they said.
“Farewell Yuan Meng,” a 10-year-old girl, Marilys, brought her painting of the panda to the ceremony, adding best wishes for her furry friend. “I knew you as a baby, I’ve watched you grow up, and if one day I go to China, I promise I’ll come to see you.”
People here love pandas. “Last year, Beauval Zoo welcomed over 2 million visitors, and the pandas played a significant role in attracting tourists,” Delord said excitedly.
Yuan Meng, meaning “the realization of a dream” in Chinese, was born in Beauval on Aug. 4, 2017. His parents Huan Huan and Yuan Zi arrived in France in 2012 on a 10-year loan. Since the couple’s arrival, the number of visitors to the Beauval Zoo has doubled and reached 1.5 million that year.
The giant panda baby “Yuan Meng” approaches his birthday cake during his birthday celebration ceremony at the ZooParc de Beauval in Saint-Aignan, France on Aug. 4, 2018. (Xinhua/ZooParc de Beauval) (lrz)
Yuan Meng originally had a twin, but unfortunately, his twin died shortly after birth. Caretakers called him “mini Yuan Zi” before he had an official name. The French first lady revealed his name when he was four months old at a naming ceremony at the zoo.
Delord said that the giant panda, classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, both represents the beauty of rare animals to the French public and raises awareness of the importance for conservation and protection of these endangered species.
In 2021, Yuan Meng’s mother Huan Huan gave birth to twins Huan Lili and Yuan Dudu, raising the number of pandas in Beauval to five. The zoo said they had received confirmation that the panda parents can stay at least until 2027, and hoped that the partnership between Beauval and China will continue.