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Welfare of giant pandas stuck at Calgary Zoo ‘in jeopardy’ amid dwindling bamboo supply

Click to play video 'Giant pandas stranded at Calgary Zoo in limbo without flights or bamboo' Giant pandas stranded at Calgary Zoo in limbo without flights or bamboo
WATCH: It's a dire situation for the beloved pandas at the Calgary Zoo. The pandemic has forced their primary food source to dwindle. COVID-19 has also made it impossible for them to be shipped back home to China. Jill Croteau has the latest.

Officials with the Calgary Zoo are expressing concern for two giant pandas who remain at the facility despite a decreasing supply of bamboo, their main food source.

The zoo announced in May that pandas Er Shun and Da Mao would be heading home to China due to challenges associated with accessing fresh bamboo amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the zoo released an update, saying it had not yet been able to secure international travel permits to relocate the pandas.

“The Calgary Zoo is currently only able to source fresh bamboo reliably from British Columbia, and this supply is expected to run out in September,” the zoo warned.

Click to play video 'Calgary Zoo will return giant pandas to China' Calgary Zoo will return giant pandas to China
Calgary Zoo will return giant pandas to China

According to a news release, the pandas are in good health but the zoo “feels their safety and well-being is in jeopardy.”

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“If there is any chance that the zoo cannot bring bamboo to the pandas, the zoo wants to bring the pandas to the bamboo.”

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 40 kilograms of bamboo daily.

In an email to Global News, the zoo said the bamboo comes from a single supplier on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

“Our giant pandas are consuming it faster than it can grow,” they said. “We will use up everything our supplier has and then the plants go dormant for winter [and] don’t produce any more bamboo that our pandas need to eat daily.”

Read more: Calgary Zoo says giant pandas heading back to China

“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 Clément Lanthier said.

“The continued delays in international permitting is putting the health and welfare of these two beautiful giant pandas in jeopardy.”

The Calgary Zoo’s chief operating officer, Greg Royer, said the uncertainty is difficult.

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“The future holds an unknown source of bamboo, an unknown source of transportation routes and unknown quantities and unknown costs and the Calgary Zoo’s standard of animal care doesn’t do well with unknowns,” Royer said.

He said time is running out.

“We are comfortable with supply to the end of September but after that we have to get far more creative on how we transport bamboo to the Calgary zoo and that concerns us,” Royer said.

He said there’s a lot of moving parts to the plan to ship them back home to China.

“It’s not like there’s any villains, nobody is trying to stop the pandas from going back, but there’s a lot of people involved and we need a couple heroes to step up and push through the paperwork and provide us with flights,” Royer said. “It’s a very difficult situation and everything has to come together at the same time and it doesn’t help to have flight without permits and doesn’t help to have permits without flights.”

Frequent visitors to the zoo are uncomfortable with the reality. Meagan Jacques said someone needs to get motivated to do something.

“Why should they starve because they can’t get the bamboo here, it’s really upsetting and they need to make an exception somewhere,” Jacques said.

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Zoocheck, a Canadian-based international wildlife protection charity weighed in. One of the organization’s directors, Barry MacKay, said animals shouldn’t be in captivity in the first place.

“My concern is worst case scenario, starvation leading to euthanasia, I know they would never let that happen but that is just how dire it is,” MacKay said.

The pandas 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 travelled to the Calgary Zoo in March 2018 with cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue.

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

Click to play video 'Calgary Zoo prepared to bid farewell to giant panda twins' Calgary Zoo prepared to bid farewell to giant panda twins
Calgary Zoo prepared to bid farewell to giant panda twins