The farewell ice cakes are in the freezer. The road food, which includes 50 pounds of bamboo, is being readied. The broom, dustpan and poop bags are on hand, for cleanup during the flight.

And Bao Bao, the Smithsonian National Zoo’s heaven-sent “miracle,” is getting accustomed to the airplane shipping crate that says: “Contents: One panda.”

On Thursday, a keeper used soothing words and honey water to coax the beloved 3-year-old into the crate in which, on Feb. 21, she will journey from her birthplace in Washington to a new home in China.

“C’mon, Bao,” said the keeper, Marty Dearie. “Good girl. Good job!”

Bao Bao now weighs 203 pounds, and it seems like ages since she fit in the palm of his hand when she was born in August 2013.

He was the first person to hold her. She was two days old and people at the zoo were praying that she would survive.

They had been devastated in September 2012, when the zoo’s adult female giant panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth to a four-ounce cub – her first in years – and it died six days later.

“My biggest memory of that moment (is) the raw emotion,” said Brandie Smith, the associate director for animal care sciences, who had wept with others after the cub’s death.

“It was the excitement over having a cub, and when we did, our plans were of the future,” Smith said. “Everyone had been celebrating with us, and then, everyone’s sadness and disappointment.”

But the next summer, Bao Bao arrived.

She was born on a Friday during the evening rush hour, as thousands of people watched live on the zoo’s black and white panda cams. Mei Xiang gave birth to a second cub 26 hours later, but it was stillborn.

“I’m not a religious person,” Dearie said at the zoo Thursday. “I’ve said, ‘She’s a miracle.’ And I don’t even mean that religiously. We went from the (deceased) cub in 2012 to Bao, and, all that she means to this team, it’s pretty amazing.”

“The whole journey, to me, starts … with that cub in 2012,” he said. “Mei Xiang hadn’t had a baby since 2005. There was some … thought in the scientific community that she may never get pregnant again.”

And when that cub was born, and died six days later, “we went from a really high high to a really low low in a week,” he said.

But a short time later the zoo sent Dearie and another keeper to a giant panda conservation center in China to study different approaches to panda care and reproduction.

Three days after they returned, Bao Bao was born. And two days later, Dearie held her in his hand.

She was small, but sturdy, he recalled. She had a loud voice and a thin layer of coarse white fur. She was given a quick medical examination and was returned to her mother.

“We were literally running up and down the hallways in here dancing around for joy,” he said. “I’ve never been that excited about anything I’ve ever done in my life, honestly.”

On Dec. 1, 2013, after a global online vote, she was named Bao Bao, which means “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese.

In subsequent years, the panda nation has followed Bao Bao’s antics on the cams and social media. In 2014, she accidentally touched an electric wire designed to keep her in her compound, and fled up a tree for two days.

That same year, she beat out the “Star Spangled Banner” flag in a Smithsonian popularity contest.

Bao Bao is the second giant panda to be shipped to China from the National Zoo. The first was Tai Shan, a male, who was born in 2005 and, to the dismay of panda fanatics, moved to China in 2010.

The transfers are part of a long-standing arrangement with China, whereby any giant panda cubs born in the United States must go to China around age 4 to breed. China owns all giant pandas in the United States and leases them to American zoos. Now it is Bao Bao’s turn. Dearie and zoo veterinarian Katherine Hope will go with her on the trip.

She is traveling on a nonstop 16-hour FedEx “Panda Express” flight from Dulles International Airport to the Chinese city of Chengdu. Bao Bao will be the only cargo.

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