AUDIE CORNISH, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Coming up, international comedy star Russell Peters on his Green Card Tour.

But first: flying pandas. The star resident of the National Zoo is leaving Washington next week. Four-year-old panda, Tai Shan, will board the FedEx Panda Express to Chengdu, China. Today, the National Zoo is throwing him a going away party.

Donald Moore is the associate director at the zoo's Department of Animal Care, and he joins us by phone from his office.

Donald, thank you for joining us.

Dr. DONALD MOORE (Associate Director, Animal Care, National Zoo): Hi. How are you?

CORNISH: So tell me a little bit more about Tai Shan's trip. Where does he fly from? Is it first class? Is this a solo trip?

Dr. MOORE: Well, let's start at the zoo. Tai Shan will go into his holding crate, which he's been trained to go into, on command and be very comfortable in there. It's a large steel crate. And then he'll go from there to Dulles Airport, where FedEx will have a 777 on the ground and Tai will go from Dulles to Chengdu, China direct, in about a 14 1/2-hour journey.

CORNISH: And did you just say FedEx? The panda is flying FedEx?

Dr. MOORE: The panda is flying FedEx Express. You bet.

CORNISH: How did that come about?

Dr. MOORE: FedEx heard we were shipping pandas and weve had a good cooperative relationship with FedEx. They often ship animals safely for us and they decided to fly the National Zoo panda back to Chengdu for free.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Well, that's the operative word there.

Dr. MOORE: That's right.

CORNISH: Now, I was also reading that giant pandas are actually the national symbol of China. And I've read that China actually maintains ownership of all giant pandas. So, like most, Tia Shan is actually on loan. What happens to him when he gets back to Chengdu?

Dr. MOORE: That's right. Just like all bald eagles in the United States that are in captivity are on loan from the U.S. government, the giant pandas are on loan from the Chinese government. And when he goes back to Chengdu, he'll be managed by the Chinese giant panda breeding centers. And he'll help to save his own species by being a breeder.

CORNISH: Donald Moore is the National Zoo's associate director for Animal Care.

Donald Moore, thank you for talking with us.

Dr. MOORE: Youre so welcome.

CORNISH: And there's another panda party going on in Atlanta today for Mei Lan, a three-year-old giant panda. Some of her biggest fans will get the chance to make farewell cards and celebrate her time at Zoo Atlanta, where she's lived where she was born there in September 2006. She will join Tai Shan on the FedEx flight to Chengdu.

Zoo Atlanta plans to pack Mei Lan some snacks for the flight, including more than a hundred pounds of bamboo, sweet potatoes, fruits, and nutritional cookies.

For more on giant pandas, visit NPR.org.

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