South Koreans mourn as country’s first celebrity panda, Fu Bao, heads to China | CNN (2024)

South Koreans mourn as country’s first celebrity panda, Fu Bao, heads to China | CNN (1)

Fu Bao, South Korea's fist celebrity panda, will soon move to a new home in Chengdu, China.


Ever since her 2020 birth, Fu Bao has been one of South Korea’s biggest celebrities, with fans eagerly following every milestone of her life at Everland Resort’s Panda World, a theme park in Yongin city.

But the country’s most famous and beloved giant panda is set to bid South Korea a final farewell in April, with preparations now underway for her journey to her new home in China.

During the last week of Fu Bao’s public viewing earlier this month, visitors reportedly endured wait times of 5-6 hours just to catch a glimpse of the celebrity bear for a mere five minutes, as the park restricted viewing times to manage the influx of visitors, according to park officials.

On Fu Bao’s last day of public viewing on March 3, she received farewell gifts, including a panda family doll crafted from bamboo, a bouquet of flowers and heart-shaped pieces of bread from her dedicated keepers at Everland.

Fu Bao fandom

Born to parents Ai Bao and Le Bao in July 2020 as part of China’s “panda diplomacy” program, Fu Bao is South Korea’s first naturally-bred panda.

In the days following her birth, Everland’s social media channels offered fans a steady diet of Fu Bao videos, with its YouTube channelpulling in more than 1.2 million subscribers and, as of February, surpassing 500 million cumulative views, according to the park.

A two-hour videochronicling Fu Bao’s journey from birth to childhood added to the Everland YouTube channel eight months ago has garnered 1.6 million views.

The most recent videos on the channel are now filled with warm and heartfelt messages from viewers, including the beloved cub’s self-proclaimed “online aunties.”

“Fu Bao, you’re a happy treasure that came to us like a miracle during the difficult Covid pandemic,” reads one Youtube comment.

South Koreans mourn as country’s first celebrity panda, Fu Bao, heads to China | CNN (2)

Some South Koreans said Fu Bao provided them with moments of joy during the pandemic.

“Your auntie’s been so happy to have known you and you made me smile so much. You’re a clever one so I’m so sure you’ll do well in a new environment!”

Another commented that they “can’t believe how time passes so quickly” and that “we have to let Fu Bao go. I’m so sad to let her go … I support our Fu and love you. Every moment knowing you has been a great joy with laughter. Thank you.”

Thanks to Fu Bao’s widespread popularity, her dedicated zookeeper has also found himself in the spotlight, becoming a bit of a social media star himself.

Often referred to as her grandpa, Kang Chul-won offered his own farewell message for Fu Bao, noting that the Korean people’s special love for her all began with social media videos shared during the Covid pandemic when the zoo was closed.

“She brought help and happiness to a society in many ways that was having a difficult time due to the coronavirus,” Kang said in a video posted to YouTube.

During remarks to the press earlier this month, he said people visited the social media sites every day so it felt like he was “raising her together with them.”

“Of course there are aspects of her cuteness and playfulness, but they cared so much for her and they shared the same emotions of raising a cub together during such difficult times,” Kang said.

Though one could argue it’s impossible to identify a single social media moment that catapulted Fu Bao to stardom, there are a couple of standout videos that have been particularly popular with viewers.

In one video, Fu Bao clings tightly to Kang’s leg, unwilling to let go, as he spins gently around the room. After many attempts to uncoil her strong arms, he finally separates himself from her.

The other short video shows Fu Bao clinging to Kang’s arm while relaxing on a wooden bench. As the zookeeper gently pushes her arm so he can take his phone out of his pocket, the panda links her arms tightly around his left arm.

After he motions to show something on the phone to her, she rolls onto her back.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Male giant panda Xiao Qi Ji lounges in his enclosure before eating an ice cake for his third birthday at the Smithsonian National Zoo on August 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. This is the last year that the National Zoo is celebrating the birthdays for the three giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji as they are scheduled to return to China later in 2023, with no replacements expected to be exchanged. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Related article Giant panda Tian Tian celebrates last birthday in DC zoo

Fu Bao’s next chapter

In an announcement from Everland, the company says Fu Bao will be transferred to the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan Province in early April.

Everland said that it will keep her in a separate space at Everland Panda World for a month to prepare her to adjust to her new environment before her overseas transfer, which will be carried out in accordance with international regulations.

According to the agreement between Samsung C&T, the parent company of Everland, and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, mature pandas must be returned to China before they turn four years old.

Once Fu Bao departs for China, there will be four giant pandas left at Everland – Fu Bao’s mother Ai Bao,father Le Bao, and their twin babies Rui Bao and Hui Bao, who were born last July.

South Koreans mourn as country’s first celebrity panda, Fu Bao, heads to China | CNN (2024)
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