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Bye bye Fu Long: Beloved Vienna zoo panda leaves for China

Vienna — Fu Long, Europe’s first panda to be naturally conceived in captivity, left his home of two years at Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Zoo on Wednesday for a reserve in China.

The panda, who captured Austrian hearts after his birth in August 2007, began his 16-hour journey early Wednesday morning, armed with 50 kilogrammes (110 pounds) of bamboo and 50 litres of water, as well as sweet potatoes, apples and carrots.

He was to travel by plane first to Chengdu, in central China, and then on to a conservation and research centre called Bifengxia Base in Sichuan province, which is home to 60 other pandas and where it is hoped he will breed.

Fu Long — "Lucky Dragon" in Mandarin — underwent months of training ahead of his trip, spending time every day in the "transport box", in which he was to travel to China.

He was accompanied on his journey by his Schoenbrunn zoo caretaker Eveline Dungl, who will stay in China for two weeks to help him acclimatise to his new surroundings, and zoo doctor Thomas Voracek.

Fu Long, the second panda to be born in Europe and one of only a few worldwide to be conceived naturally in captivity, made headlines after his birth on August 23, 2007.

The small ball of fur, who now weighs more than 50 kilogrammes compared with around 100 grammes when he was born, quickly became a hit at Schoenbrunn, the world’s oldest zoo.

Under the zoo’s contract with China however, Fu Long was to return to his country of origin on his second birthday.

Pandas, even when conceived abroad, are the property of the Republic of China and only loaned to foreign zoos.

Less than 1,600 giant pandas remain in the wild, according to a 2006 China panda report.