Giant panda family makes its Calgary Zoo debut

The giant panda cubs were in a playful mood on Monday showing off for a crowd

Two giant panda cubs were in a playful mood Monday as the Calgary Zoo introduced them and their parents to the general public.

Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue — meaning Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy — could be seen wrestling and rolling about their nearly 2,000 square-metre, indoor-outdoor habitat. After ambling over rocks by a small waterfall, one of the youngsters went inside to curl up by the glass and take a snooze.

Their father Da Mao, or First of Mao, was in the indoor part of the Panda Passage exhibit lazily lounging on a log and munching on a stalk of bamboo. Their mother Er Shun, or Double Smoothness, was out of view.

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Dozens of people were lined up around midday just as the exhibit opened its doors.

The furry foursome was shipped to Calgary from Toronto earlier this spring and spent about a month in quarantine.

The two adults are on loan from China to Canadian zoos as part of a 10-year deal signed in 2012. The cubs were born in Toronto in 2015.

The price tag to have them in Calgary was around $30 million, including $14.4 million for the exhibit itself. Expanded parking lots, washrooms and restaurants were also required to accommodate more visitors.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 asking for federal funding. He said Monday he’s happy everything worked out, even though Ottawa didn’t chip in.

“In the end, private sponsors plus the government of Alberta and the City of Calgary were able to make this happen and we know the economic impact will be huge.”

Nenshi said he’s expecting the zoo to have its best year ever in 2018.

“But it’s also a great opportunity for Calgarians to unite about something that just makes us all feel good,” he said. ”After a tough couple of years, it’s important to have some feel-good things going on.”

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Each of the critters eats 40 kilograms of bamboo a day, which is shipped twice weekly from China through a partnership between the zoo and Hainan Airlines.

Zoo president and CEO Clement Lanthier said he’s hopeful Er Shun may have more cubs while in Calgary. Female pandas are only receptive to breeding two days a year and the zoo is looking at artificially inseminating her. Er Shun has been trained to present her front leg so that blood samples can be taken to monitor her hormone levels.

“Stay tuned. We will monitor everything but I think our chances are fairly good,” said Lanthier. “The science of breeding pandas has been evolving dramatically in the past 10 years and that is the reason why they changed the status of the panda from endangered to vulnerable, because of the success of the captive breeding program.”

The adult pandas are to remain in Calgary for the next five years, while the cubs are to return to China in the next 18 months or so.

Lanthier said he hopes people drawn to the zoo by the high-profile visitors will end up learning something about species closer to home that are in trouble, such as the whooping crane, sage grouse and black-footed ferret.

“We’re planning to use the rock-star status of the panda to attract people in a conversation to talk about the less charismatic endangered species of Western Canada, mostly.”

The Canadian Press

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