March 16, 2018 7:49 am
Updated: March 18, 2018 7:47 pm

Canada’s giant pandas: Looking back 5 years at the Toronto Zoo

WATCH: The Calgary Zoo will soon be hosting four giant pandas that have spent the last five years at the Toronto Zoo.


Giant pandas named Da Mao and Er Shun arrived to Toronto from China with much fanfare in March 2013 as part of a global conservation breeding program.

Five years later, not only did Er Shun give birth to two cubs on Canadian soil, the four white and black-coloured bears also delighted millions of attendees at the Toronto Zoo.

All four pandas will be moved to the Calgary Zoo for the next five years to end their 10-year loan. Sunday will be the last day visitors can catch a glimpse of the animals in Toronto.

WATCH: Hundreds come to say farewell to pandas at Toronto Zoo

Here’s a look back the giant pandas’ five-year stay at the Toronto Zoo.


Arrival of Da Mao and Er Shun

Five-year-old female Er Shun and four-year-old Da Mao received a VIP welcome on March 25, 2013, when they arrived in Toronto.

Both pandas, who only met before the 15-hour flight, made the 12,875-kilometre journey from Chengdu, China to Toronto aboard a customized FedEx jet dubbed the “Panda Express.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with dignitaries at Pearson Airport in Toronto on March 25, 2015, as he welcomes Da Mao, one of two Giant Pandas on loan to Canada from China.


Former prime minister Stephen Harper and China’s ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, greeted the bears at an airport hangar.

The hope at the time was that the two would breed. According to the Toronto Zoo, female pandas only have one reproductive cycle each year and typically produce offspring only once every second year.

The bears arrived in Canada for a 10-year stay through an agreement signed between the Canadian and Chinese governments in 2012.

VIDEO: Pandas from China arrive in Toronto

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High price to feed giant pandas

The meals for Er Shun and Da Mao consists primarily of bamboo. With supplies minimal in Canada, the plants are flown in from Memphis at a cost of $500,000 a year. That’s equivalent to what it costs to feed all the other animals at the Toronto Zoo combined.

Zookeepers had to present them with three times their daily intake – so they can selectively pick through the plants using a sniff and toss method.

The Toronto Zoo covers the exorbitant cost of food through increased attendance.

VIDEO: The giant appetites of Giant Pandas

Er Shun pregnant with twins

Attempts to impregnate Er Shun in 2014 were unsuccessful but scientists and zoologists didn’t give up.

During regularly scheduled ultrasounds, staff found a fetal heartbeat on Sept. 25, 2015, and a second separate fetus was discovered on Sept. 29.

Staff used sperm collected from Da Mao for the first procedure and frozen sperm collected from two giant pandas in China for the second.

VIDEO: Ultrasounds reveal Toronto Zoo’s giant panda pregnant with twins

Birth of panda twins

The Toronto Zoo welcomed two new additions to its panda exhibit with the birth of two cubs — the first ever to be born in Canada — on Oct. 13, 2015.

Female giant panda Er Shun delivered the first newborn at 3:31 a.m. followed by the second three minutes later.

WATCH: Final weekend to visit giant pandas at Toronto Zoo

The first cub weighed 187.7 grams at birth and the second weighed 115 grams.

Zoo officials said at the time the sex and the paternity of the cubs wouldn’t be known for several months.

VIDEO: History is made in Canada as the Toronto Zoo welcomes twin baby pandas

It’s a boy AND a girl!

Zoo officials announced in February 2016 that the baby pandas are brother and sister.

Experts at Trent University east of Toronto used DNA sexing protocols developed by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to discover the sex of the twins.

The following month, the twins’ names were unveiled following an online naming contest.

VIDEO: Baby pandas at Toronto Zoo take first steps

READ MORE: DNA testing reveals gender of Toronto Zoo panda cubs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the dignitaries on hand at the naming ceremony — the first big public unveiling of the twins — which was also attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Jia Panpan — meaning “Canadian Hope” — and Jia Yueyue — “Canadian Joy” — were the names chosen.

VIDEO: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets close-up with Toronto’s twin pandas

Happy Birthday Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue

Zoo officials released a three-and-a-half minute video on Oct. 13, 2016, to honour the two baby pandas.

The furry creatures spent the day inside their enclosed den with a few birthday surprises and treats.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced earlier in the year that giant pandas are no longer an endangered species but are still considered “vulnerable.”

It’s estimated that there are 2,400 pandas in the world and only 44 of them live outside of China.

VIDEO: Toronto Zoo’s giant panda cubs celebrate 1st birthday with fans

Goodbye giant pandas! See you in Calgary

The four pandas will be moved to the Calgary Zoo in March and will stay there until 2023.

Calgary zoo officials said the creatures are expected to drive a 25 per cent spike in attendance.

The Panda Passage habitat is set to open to the public on May 7.

The zoo said the exhibit took years of planning and resulted in $100 million in upgrades to the zoo.

VIDEO: Calgary Zoo brings on team of experts in preparation for giant pandas

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