The Calgary Zoo says it's getting excited about rolling out the welcome mat for two Chinese pandas.

Zoo spokeswoman Laurie Skene says China has agreed to lend Canada two pandas named Er Shun and Ji Li for 10 years.

The animals will divide their time equally between the Toronto and Calgary zoos, arriving in Calgary in 2018.

'People will be coming from other parts of the Prairies. Even the western United States … specifically to see the pandas.'— Gordon Houlden

The Calgary Zoo is hoping the pandas attract enough visitors to make up for the extra costs associated with the animals.

China will get a $1 million a year and millions more will be spent on infrastructure and ongoing care. Bamboo alone will cost $150,000 a year.

"It's an animal that a lot of people think they'll never see in their lifetime and so people will line up to see them, they'll line up to see them sleep, they'll line up to come down and just have a glimpse," predicted Trish Eston-Parder, another official with the zoo.

The zoo is promising that any extra revenue, after expenses, will be spent on wildlife conservation, education and other zoo programs.

Pandas a symbolic gesture

formal announcement was made Saturday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the city of Chongqing.

The pandas will be a huge draw at the Calgary Zoo, predicted Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

"I suspect you'll get destination tourism. People will be coming from Vancouver, people will be coming from other parts of the Prairies. Even the western United States … specifically to see the pandas," he said.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, hold a panda at the Chongqing Zoo in Chongqing, China on Saturday. Two giant pandas will call Canada home for the next 10 years. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Skene says the pandas won't arrive in Canada for at least a year as the zoos upgrade their facilities to accommodate them.

The last time giant pandas were in Calgary was 1988. Wei Lun and Xi Xi were on loan during the Olympic Winter Games.

Skene says they were a big draw at the time and expects the animals' status as a symbol of conservation will make them even more popular this time around.

In 1985, two pandas — Qinn Qinn and Sha Yan — visited the Toronto Zoo for three months.

With files from CBC News