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Bao Bao the giant panda welcomed in China

The 3-year-old arrived in her new home after a 17-hour flight from Washington. She is part of rigorous Chinese conservation efforts that have seen pandas successfully removed from the endangered species list.

Bao Bao the giant panda arrived in China on Thursday morning after a 17-hour flight from Washington DC. The 3-year-old landed in the city of Chengdu and was transported to the nearby Dujiangyan panda breeding center.

The panda was accompanied by Marty Dearie, her veterinarian and keeper, who will stay with Bao Bao until she becomes accustomed to her new home. Her first month will be full of health checks and diet monitoring.

"Once Bao Bao the panda completes this month of quarantine, she'll go on display to the public, and I welcome everyone to come see her then," said Dujiangyan researcher Li Desheng.

Dujiangyan is located in Sichuan province, whose mountains, along with parts of neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu, make up the relatively small natural habitat of the giant panda.

Bao Bao was born at the National Zoo in Washington to parents on loan from a Chinese facility. Under the program, baby pandas are expected to return to China before the age of 4, which is the earliest age at which they can breed. Bao Bao is the 11th panda to be born in the US and brought back to China as part of the agreement.

Local celebrity, national symbol

In her early years, she proved to be quite a tourist draw in Washington, and her departure was marked by six days of ceremonies and activities in her honor.

Giant pandas have long been a symbol not only of China, but also of the dangers poachers and habitat loss pose to animals. For centuries, pandas were hunted for their prized fur. Deforestation and pollution drove their numbers down even further. Because they must eat bamboo nearly constantly to maintain their own body weight, pandas are slow-moving and provide easy targets to hunters.

However, decades of conservation efforts are finally showing some improvement - in 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) finally moved the animals off of its list of endangered species. Giant pandas are now listed as "vulnerable," though they are still completely reliant on human intervention to sustain the population.

es/se (AP, dpa)

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