Photo/Illutration Giant panda Touhin raises her leg in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture, on Feb. 21. (Shiro Nishihata)

SHIRAHAMA, Wakayama Prefecture--A beloved giant panda family drew 4,600 fans to Adventure World here on Feb. 21 to say goodbye before they were sent to China.

Visitors waited for more than an hour to bid farewell to Eimei, 30, and his female cub Touhin, now 8, who will be flown to a conservation center in China’s Sichuan province the next day.

Touhin’s twin sister, Ouhin, was not on display as she was showing signs of being in heat.

A crowd of 2,000 visitors joined a farewell ceremony held at the zoo, which livestreamed the event on YouTube for 13,000 viewers.

“They are in good physical condition and ready for the journey,” said zoo director Koji Imazu. “We’ll do our best to support their transport, especially the eldest, 30-year-old Eimei.”

After coming to Adventure World in 1994 on a loan agreement with China, Eimei has fathered 16 cubs with two of his three mates.

He became the world’s oldest giant panda in captivity to father a cub via natural breeding when the twins Touhin and Ouhin were born in December 2014.

That record was broken by the same father when Fuhin, his youngest female cub, was born in November 2020.

Panda lovers in Tokyo also said goodbye to their zoo icon, Xiang Xiang, as she departed for Sichuan province on the same day.

Fans, some in tears, gathered at the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo’s Taito Ward and later at Narita International Airport in the hopes of catching one last glimpse of the crate that carried her to her new home.

The 5-year-old giant panda will be part of a breeding program at a conservation center for the endangered species.

Under Japan’s agreement, Xiang Xiang, whose parents are still on loan at Ueno Zoo, must be sent to China despite having been born and raised in Japan.

(This article was compiled from reports by staff writers Shiro Nishihata and Honomi Homma.)