How To Ship A Giant Panda
Since 2000, we’ve donated our services to transport some highly unusual cargo – giant pandas! Discover how we’ve flown these special creatures halfway across the world on our Panda Express planes.
Have you ever seen a giant panda fly? We have – more times than you might think!
That’s because since 2000, we’ve taken to the skies with our ‘FedEx Panda Express’ planes for a series of special missions. Our most recent flight helped to rehome a family of three giant pandas to their native home in Chengdu, China from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
Over time, we’ve learned a few things about how to take care of these majestic creatures during transportation. Read on for an in-depth look at what it really takes to ship giant pandas halfway across the globe.
The story behind shipping pandas
People travel from all over the world to visit Chengdu and its giant pandas. Famous for panda conservation, the animal is the city’s unofficial mascot. The city also attracts thousands of domestic tourists, with the nation’s collective adoration for pandas dubbed ‘the giant panda economy’.
Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between China and the rest of the world. This practice of gifting giant pandas to overseas nations dates back to the Tang Dynasty. These days, China typically loans giant pandas so that they can be seen by more people across the world.
The Smithsonian Zoo in Washington also has a long and cherished history with pandas. The first two pandas arrived at the National Zoo in 1972, a gift from China following President Richard Nixon's historic visit to the country.
As a highly beloved species, it’s extremely important to panda lovers around the world that they are transported safely. For almost 25 years, we have worked with the Chinese authorities and zoos around the world to safely ship giant pandas to and from China.
The logistics – behind the scenes of a panda shipment
On 9 November 2023, three giant pandas arrived in Chengdu, China
on the FedEx Panda Express. Our most recent panda shipment, the passengers were 25-year-old Mei Xiang, 26-year-old Tian Tian, and their three-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji.
The non-stop flight was the result of months of careful planning, and the latest in a long line of panda journeys that FedEx have supported. The last panda charter involved a team of more than 80 global team members collaborating weekly for three months to ensure everything went like clockwork.
Read on for our checklist of the most important considerations when planning for the trip:
1. Safety first: prioritizing panda health and wellbeing
For this shipment, FedEx worked with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. This means careful planning and consultation in the months leading up to the flight to monitor the panda family’s health.
Once the pandas are on board, they’re accompanied by animal care experts who keep an eye on how they’re doing throughout the journey. On arrival, they are checked over carefully by their new keepers before being placed into quarantine for around 30 days.
And it’s not just qualified vets looking out for the pandas’ wellbeing. As an extra safety precaution during transportation from the zoo to the airport, FedEx custom panda trucks were escorted by a special police motorcade.
2. The transport: say hello to the FedEx Panda Express
At FedEx, transportation is what we do best! This means we think about every step of the journey in advance. First, the pandas are placed in special crates and loaded into FedEx vans, branded especially for the event. Typically, groups of well-wishers including media, zoo officials and the general public turn out to wave the pandas off.
Once at the airport, pandas are the only cargo on the trans-Pacific flight, which travels over 8,400 nautical miles non-stop from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to China’s Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. The flight takes around 16 hours.
Our famous Panda Express is a custom-decaled Boeing 777F adorned with panda images that pay tribute to the cargo inside. Decals are applied to both sides of the aircraft and take four days to complete.
The pandas travel in a specially designed enclosure made from steel and plexiglass, with removable side panels that offer the attendants full view and access to the panda during the journey. Before their trip, the pandas spend time getting familiar with their crates to ensure a safe and comfortable flight.
3. In-flight catering: keeping the pandas fed
What’s on the menu for a typical Panda Express flight? Supplies include bamboo, water, and their favorite treats, such as sugar cane, apples, and pears.
For example, on a Panda Express flight in 2019 transporting 4-year-old Bei Bei, the flight was loaded with 66 pounds of bamboo, two pounds of apples and pears, two bags of leafeater biscuits, two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and water.
Panda specialists: strengthening our special cargo expertise over time
FedEx has had the privilege of transporting 15 different pandas on 10 separate flights over the past two decades, including Tai Shan in 2010, Bao Bao in 2017 and Bei Bei in 2019. As giant pandas are a national treasure in China, we’re proud to be chosen as the trusted carrier to support these important deliveries.
We’ve also transported pandas between China and Memphis Zoo, as well as Canada, Scotland and France. We support these projects by donating the cost of transportation as part of our charitable initiative, Delivering for Good.
The program has seen us ship many unusual and rare species of wildlife, from chimpanzees and white Bengal tigers to brown bears and jaguars.
With countless special deliveries of precious cargo over the years, we’ve continued to demonstrate the strengths and customized capabilities of our network.
To read more stories about the rare historic artifacts we’ve shipped over the years, head here.
For more information on how we donate our time and our transportation network to support humanitarian causes, visit our FedEx Cares page.