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Calgary Zoo says giant pandas heading back to China

Calgary Zoo will return giant pandas to China
WATCH: The Calgary Zoo will return giant panda's Er Shun and Da Mao to China after trade restrictions hampered efforts to bring in bamboo. Jessie Weisner reports.

Two giant pandas that have made the Calgary Zoo their home since 2018 will be heading back to China earlier than expected.

The pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, first arrived in Canada in 2014 as part of a 10-year agreement between Canada and China.

After spending five years at the Toronto Zoo, the two adult giant pandas arrived at the Calgary Zoo in March 2018 with cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue.

The cubs then travelled home to China in January, leaving just their parents to wander the Calgary Zoo’s Panda Passage exhibit.

Calgary Zoo works to keep visitors ‘incredibly safe’ as it moves to reopen after COVID-19 shutdown
Calgary Zoo works to keep visitors ‘incredibly safe’ as it moves to reopen after COVID-19 shutdown

The zoo announced the news on Tuesday, saying the decision was due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, which had made it more challenging for them to get access to bamboo for the pandas to eat.

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“We believe the best and safest place for Er Shun and Da Mao to be during these challenging and unprecedented times is where bamboo is abundant and easy to access,” Calgary Zoo President and CEO Dr. Clément Lanthier said in a news release.

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“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make but the health and well-being of the animals we love and care for always comes first.”

According to the zoo, 99 per cent of a giant panda’s diet is made up of fresh bamboo, and each adult giant panda consumes approximately 40kg of bamboo daily.

“In the last two months, the Calgary Zoo has seen changes in transportation destroy the bamboo supply lines they have depended on since the giant pandas’ arrival in Calgary,” a news release stated.

“Direct flight cancellations between China and Calgary resulted in WestJet stepping up to move the bamboo from Toronto to Calgary, but fewer flights between China and Toronto as a result of the pandemic removed this option.”

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The Calgary Zoo said it worked with alternate bamboo suppliers to find a way to keep the giant pandas fed, but shipments were “slower than acceptable” and resulted in “poor quality bamboo” that the giant pandas wouldn’t eat.

“I am continually amazed by the resourcefulness and dedication of our team,” said Lanthier. “Unfortunately, they are fighting against forces much greater than the Calgary Zoo.”

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The Calgary Zoo closed temporarily on March 16 due to COVID-19.

Because of this, in-person farewells aren’t possible. Instead, the zoo is inviting the public to say a virtual farewell to online through the PandaCam on the Calgary Zoo’s website.

Officials with the zoo said they are in the process of exploring travel options to get the pandas home as soon as possible and no exact travel plans have been made.

As such, it’s unknown exactly how long they will be available for viewing on the PandaCam.

Earlier this month, the Calgary Zoo launched an online survey to help inform their reopening approach, though they haven’t yet announced when their phased reopening will start.