KUALA LUMPUR – Nuan Nuan, a two-year-old female giant panda who was the first of her species to be born in Malaysia, was on Tuesday headed for her ancestral homeland in China.
Images by an epa photojournalist on the ground showed her lounging inside a container filled with bamboo shoots that were part of her onboard menu during her four-hour Malaysian Airlines flight to Shuanglin Airport in Chengdu.
Nuan Nuan, which means “warmth” in Chinese, was born in August 2015 to Feng Yi and Fu Wa, who had been sent to Kuala Lumpur on a 10-year loan as part of a Chinese policy known as “panda diplomacy.”
Beijing loans the animals, which are native to the central mountainous regions in China, to countries worldwide as a gesture of goodwill, an initiative that began in 1984, when the species was declared endangered.
The pair were sent to Malaysia in 2014 to mark the 40th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.
An agreement signed with Malaysia stipulates that any cubs born in captivity must be returned to China by the age of two.
An epa photographer was at the airport in Kuala Lumpur to witness Nuan Nuan being loaded onto the flight headed for Chengdu, which is home to a research center for breeding giant pandas.
Malaysia was the fourth country in Southeast Asia to receive a loan from China to raise giant pandas.
In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature removed the panda from its list of endangered species and classified it as “vulnerable,” due to the increase in its population over the past few years.
However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora continues to include the giant panda among its endangered species.