Singapore Airlines will start the new year flying a VIP (Very Important Panda).
In January 2024, the Singapore flag carrier will take Le Le the giant panda cub back to China onboard a specially arranged B747-400F flight.
Born in August 2021, Le Le is Singapore’s first giant panda cub. His parents, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, are on loan from China under China’s wildlife goodwill gesture known as the “panda diplomacy”.
Under the diplomacy program, host countries receive pandas on a 10-year renewable basis. Kai Kai and Jia Jia will remain in Singapore for five more years.
Two year-old Le Le, however, will return to China because zoologists believe it is in the best interest of the pandas and the conservation program that the animals should eventually return to their natural habitat.
Le Le had his final day in Singapore’s Pavilion Capital Giant Panda Forest at River Wonders on December 13, 2023. He is currently in quarantine until he departs for China on January 16, 2023.
Singapore Airlines is sponsoring Le Le’s homecoming trip to Chengdu, where he will be accompanied by two dedicated keepers and a veterinarian. The cabin’s ambient temperature will be maintained between 15-16 degrees Celsius (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit), consistent with the temperature at the River Wonders Panda Forest where Le Le spent the first two years of his life.
According to a report by Channel News Asia, the B747-400F’s nose door can be opened upwards to accommodate Le Le’s custom-made crate, as well as his travel essentials – including an in-flight meal of up to 50kg of bamboo, bamboo shoots, fruit, pellets and water.
Le Le’s care team has been conditioning him for the flight using positive reinforcement training, which involves food rewards to encourage him to voluntarily enter the crate and get comfortable being inside.