The Calgary Zoo’s beloved giant pandas face an uncertain future.
Plans to return the pandas Er Shun and Da Mao to China announced in May have not materialized as the zoo has not secured the proper international permits to send the pandas back to their homeland.
And zoo officials warn they are running out of bamboo — and time.
The zoo initially announced plans to return the pandas in May after international travel — and subsequently the pandas’ main source of food — dried up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since arriving in Canada in 2014, the pandas have been fed with a steady supply of fresh bamboo brought in on flights from China. Giant pandas have unique nutritional requirements — 99 per cent of their diet is made up of fresh bamboo, amounting to 40 kilograms of bamboo daily each. And while the zoo explored other options — from sourcing alternative bamboo suppliers to flying it in from Toronto — officials ultimately decided that with current uncertainty expected to continue, the pandas were safest closest to a consistent bamboo supply.
“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 in May. “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, in the ensuing months, China has not approved international permits to transport the pandas from Calgary to the country, due to changes in its import laws and quarantine facilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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With temporary bamboo supplies from B.C. expected to run out in September, officials fear for the pandas’ future.
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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,” Lanthier said in a statement.
“The continued delays in international permitting is putting the health and welfare of these two beautiful giant pandas in jeopardy.”
In their six years on Canadian soil, the pandas have become beloved icons. They first arrived in Toronto in 2014 as part of a 10-year deal, where they had two babies. The two adults were relocated in 2018 to the Calgary Zoo with cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, who returned to China in January 2020.