Image: National Zoo Panda
Ann Batdorf  /  AP file
Tai Shan, the National Zoo's giant panda cub, plays in a tree at his home at the zoo in this photo from 2006.
updated 1/8/2010 12:11:40 PM ET 2010-01-08T17:11:40

The Friends of the National Zoo will host a "Farewell to Tai Shan" party at the end of the month before the 4-year-old giant panda is sent to China.

The group announced Thursday that it will hold the goodbye party in Washington on Jan. 30. Zoo officials said in December that Tai Shan will be leaving under an agreement with the Chinese government.

The agreement that brought Tai Shan's mother, Mei Xiang, and father, Tian Tian, to the zoo calls for any panda offspring to be returned to China for breeding.

A zoo spokeswoman says the event will be the main public farewell for Tai Shan. Panda fans will be able to write goodbye cards. It is not clear, though, what day Tai Shan will depart.

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Video: Panda-monium: Cub heads home to China

  1. Closed captioning of: Panda-monium: Cub heads home to China

    >>> them.

    >>> if you visit washington with your family or with your school, there's a good chance a stop on your trip will be to see tai shan , the 4-year-old panda who was born here in the u.s. the panda that china is now taking back. the move is breaking hearts in washington . and why wouldn't it? our report tonight from nbc's andrea mitchell .

    >> reporter: tai shan appeared unfazed today, oblivious to the uproar over his custody.

    >> we understand this is traumatic for a lot of people, not the least of which is our own staff, but for the public.

    >> i'm sorry. we're going to miss him.

    >> he's on my web cam every day.

    >> reporter: the zoo says 2 million people a year have watched tai shan 's web cam . the first panda cub born here to survive infancy. he was nicknamed butter stick for his tiny size. to his current 200 pounds. in fact, america's love affair with pandas started in 1972 , when president nixon opened the door to china and beijing sent washington its first panda couple. the company tracked every fetal heartbeat as they tried to produce a cub.

    >> in another long-running washington drama --

    >> the panda cub born to ling ling has died.

    >> reporter: now, even though tai shan was born here-a pears on a u.s. stamp, and is hugely popular, it turns out officially he is chinese. today china's spokesman seemed embarrassed to be taking him away.

    >> i'm afraid i'll have to work hard explaining to some of my colleagues in the chinese embassy and particularly to my family and my son.

    >> reporter: the news even reached the secretary of state at nato.

    >> i can't talk about it. i'm too upset right now.

    >> reporter: so could china's panda grab cause a rift in diplomatic relations ? and if they want their panda back, what's next? could beijing even try to call in our national debt ?

    >> sad.

    >> why sad?

    >> because i like the pandas.

    >> i think it would be nice for him to go to china so that he can go back to his home.

    >> reporter: tonight tai shan 's keepers only hope his parents can produce another cub before they too have to return to china next year. andrea mitchell , nbc news, at the national zoo .

    >>> there's word tonight former mayor


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