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VIDEO - Bears In Black & White

4 Panda’s Make Calgary Zoo Debut

Travel by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, August 2018, page 54)
VIDEO - Bears In Black & White: 4 Panda’s Make Calgary Zoo Debut
Image by: GayCalgary
VIDEO - Bears In Black & White: 4 Panda’s Make Calgary Zoo Debut
Image by: GayCalgary
VIDEO - Bears In Black & White: 4 Panda’s Make Calgary Zoo Debut
Image by: GayCalgary
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It’s the event 30 years in the making. On May 7th, 2018 at an event that included dignitaries from China, Federal, Provincial and Municipal representatives, and VIP’s the 14-million-dollar Panda Passage exhibit officially opened at the Calgary Zoo.

The building has long been a staple of the Calgary Zoo – in 1988 when the zoo hosted pandas during the Olympics it was home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos and hippos as the large mammal building. Now completely refitted into a massive home (the building also features Komodo Dragons) the home of Er Shun, Da Mao and cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue is a sight to be seen. It’s a far different exhibit then the one that hosted pandas three decades ago.

"It is 2 completely different worlds. We went from a smaller space to ones that 6 times the size. There’s more dynamic habitats with streams and plants and topography. Zoos in general, especially world class zoos, have evolved tremendously in 30 years and will continue to evolve," zoo curator Matt Korhonen told GayCalgary at the opening. Korhonen manages the team that oversees the care of the pandas. "We make sure they get everything they need – unlimited bamboo, lots of space, lots of enrichment. It’s been a journey so far and we are very excited for 5 years to come."

The pandas are part of a 10-year loan to Canada launched by the Harper Government. Er Shun and Da Mao spent the first 5 years in Toronto, resulting in the birth of cubs Jia Panpan (Canadian Hope) and Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy) in October 2015. The first cubs born in Canada may prove to have difficult names to pronounce (every attempt to say them during the opening was different) there is no denying the 2-and-a-half-year-old cubs are cute. They will return to China after 2 years, but the zoo hopes to have 2 cubs of their own born in Calgary.

"We will likely try to breed them next spring. It’s a very difficult process but we’re optimistic. Our plan is to breed them in 2019. It’s a very short window of three days and if you miss that, that’s it. We monitor her estrous cycles which is a urine sample. She is trained for voluntary blood draw as well – she will present her arm and allow you to take blood from her so we’ll end up using some of that information but its primarily urine samples."

The cubs spend the day together frolicking, napping, and eating bamboo. They still spend time with mom, but time will dictate when the three will be separated as adult pandas are solitary animals.

"They are with mom for periods of the day right now. We’ll let their behavior tell us what they need. If they start to show inclinations of needing to be apart we’ll allow them to do that. The exhibits are designed to give us those choices. We let the pandas choose and do what they’re telling us."

The Panda’s arrival has resulted in an increase in attendance already but also criticism. The zoo has a transparency policy that dictates they release information on the death of animals at the facility. This has lead to some online commentators questioning the zoo’s ability to care for the rare giants, something Korhonen disputes.

"We have a world class panda team with experts from around the world that work with us every day. With that said, the Calgary Zoo is very transparent about everything that goes on here. If an animal passes away we’re vocal and we should be. We’re responsible to the general public for the care of these animals. We take great pride in that."

During the opening ceremonies, mayor Nenshi joked that he had asked if he could cuddle a panda. While they are herbivores and adorable, they are bears and can be dangerous. Working with other large animals at the zoo like the grizzly and black bears, tigers, and gorillas have prepared the team for the panda’s stay.

"It is very similar especially as it pertains to safety protocols. Working with animals in varying spaces, individual species have a lot of tiny details that are super important for their health and welfare. Pandas are no different. Different animal but a similar recipe to keep them healthy or happy. We treat them as they were any other bear."

You could see the excitement of zoo staff as the doors officially opened. 5 years of planning, millions in renovations, and now the pandas are ready to greet the public.

"It’s a relief. It has been a big buildup and we are just happy to get it all going. It has been a long process for our zoo and our team. Lots of preparation and training but we are happy and excited for the next 5 years."

The zoo offers special opportunities like Panda breakfast including an early private visit, and timed ticketing to reduce wait times. Visit http://www.CalgaryZoo.com for details.


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Contributor Jason Clevett |


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Image by: GayCalgary

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