Xiang Xiang, a hugely popular female giant panda at the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo, on Tuesday began her journey to China, where she is set to start her search for a mate.

Accompanied by two zoo employees keeping a close eye on her, Xiang Xiang was taken from the zoo by truck Tuesday morning to Narita Airport, where she was put on a charter flight bound for China's Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

"I want to thank her for making so many people happy," said zoo director Yutaka Fukuda. "I hope (that her return to China) will contribute to panda conservation research."