The Calgary Zoo said in May that pandas Er Shun and Da Mao would be heading home to China due to challenges associated with accessing fresh bamboo — their main food source — amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the months that followed, the officials with the facility spoke openly about the troubles they were having securing international travel permits to relocate the pandas.
Then, on Friday, the zoo announced the pair were officially making their way home.
“After months and months of hard work to secure international permits to get our beloved giant pandas home to China,” a Facebook post stated, “today is the day!”
“A huge thank you to our amazing partners at YYC Calgary International Airport and International Animal Lounge YYC for being part of the beginning of Er Shun and Da Mao’s journey home today.”
The pandas first arrived in Canada in 2013 as part of a 10-year agreement between Canada and China.
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After spending five years at the Toronto Zoo, the pair 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.
The zoo had said previously that the decision to send Er Shun and Da Mao home 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.
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 in August, the zoo said the bamboo came from a single supplier on Salt Spring Island, B.C.
In the past, the Calgary Zoo said it had worked with alternative 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.
The Calgary Zoo is encouraging anyone who wants to stay updated on Er Shun and Da Mao’s journey to check its social media accounts for updates, which will be posted using the hashtag #GetThePandasHome.