Two bamboo-eating VIPs will be greeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after they land in Canada on Monday.
Er Shun and Da Mao, the giant pandas who are coming to Canada for a 10-year stay, were put on the Panda Express in Chengdu, China, on Sunday.
The Panda Express is a FedEx plane that has been chartered for their journey to Canada. The pandas will land in Toronto on Monday.
The prime minister, his wife and Zhang Junsai, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, will be participating in a photo op after the pandas land at Pearson International Airport.
Worth the wait
Toronto has waited many years to see pandas at its zoo again and one city councillor says it was once thought to be an impossible goal.
Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti issued a news release Sunday, saying two former mayors and two former prime ministers had declined to sign letters "asserting Toronto Zoo interest in hosting the furry diplomats."
But now that pandas are coming back to Toronto, and Mammoliti, a former chair of the zoo board, says he will be at the airport to greet Er Shun and Da Mao.
"After bear hugs, I might even help the pandas with their luggage," he said.
Last year, Mammoliti spoke out against the desire to sell off the city's zoo, as he said that would jeopardize the forthcoming panda visit.
FedEx is handling the transport of the giant pandas to Canada. It’s a job that they have taken on before, as the company has previously brought pandas to the United States and Europe.
For the trip to Toronto, FedEx is bringing lots of food — mostly bamboo and bamboo shoots, but also apples — for the pandas to munch on during their long journey.
The FedEx website says that the journey from the Chengdu airport to Toronto will take more than 15 hours and involve travelling a distance of 12,875 kilometres.
Er Shun and Da Mao will also have veterinarians travelling with them.
Fed Ex will continue to be involved with the panda exhibit during Er Shun and Da Mao's time in Toronto. The company will be flying fresh bamboo for them to eat several times a week.
News of the pandas' 10-year stay in Canada was announced when Harper was in China last year. After their time in Toronto, the pandas will head to Calgary for the final five years of their Canadian stay.
The Toronto Zoo has only hosted giant pandas on one other occasion, when Qing Qinq and Quan Quan were in the city for a 100-day visit in 1985. Their short stay drew hundreds of thousands of visitors that year.
Oliver Claffey was one of the zookeepers who looked after the pandas that came to Toronto in 1985.
He thinks this visit will be even more successful than the original because the pandas will be at the zoo for years, rather than months.
"This time, it’s a long-term loan and I suspect that with the knowledge that we have and the staff we have at the Toronto Zoo, they’ll breed and that’s the idea," he said in an interview with CBC News on Sunday.