Giant pandas eating well, liking new Calgary Zoo home, curator says

Zoo staff hope the mother bear will have more cubs but she can only get pregnant three days a year.

It's hoped mother will have more cubs — but she can only get pregnant 3 days a year

Panda cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue play in an enclosure at the Toronto Zoo. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Four giant pandas on loan from China are eating well and exploring their new Calgary home, their zoo panda curator says.

The pandas arrived in the city from Toronto a week ago.

"They're doing good," Colleen Baird told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. "Everybody says the pandas are really adorable, and they honestly really are. They're pretty cute and fluffy."

The Calgary Zoo has built a large enclosure to house the two parents and two cubs. Their habitat includes water features, hot and cool rocks, elevation, lush greenery and indoor, humid, quiet spaces.

Members of the public will be able to visit the giant pandas starting in May.

Four giant pandas are now at the Calgary Zoo. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The zoo is hoping the pandas will have more cubs while in Calgary. Zoo staff will try to impregnate the adult female panda, named Er Shun, using artificial insemination next year.

"She's only viable to get pregnant three days out of the year," Baird said. "That's why they're so vulnerable."

Fewer than 2,000 in the wild

Giant pandas are rated a vulnerable species, with fewer than 2,000 counted as living in the wild in 2016.

As the adult female settles into her new habitat, the zoo team is trying to train her to become comfortable with the insemination process. Curators need the pandas to enter a specialized training crate and relax for ultrasounds, for example.

"They sit there calmly, get some pear and get some apple while we goob up their abdomen and take a look inside," Baird said.

On loan to Canada for 10 years, Er Shun and the adult male panda, Da Mao, have already had two cubs.

Members of the public will be able to visit the giant pandas at the Calgary Zoo starting in May. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Jia Panpan (Canadian Hope) and Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy) are 2½-years-old and will soon be weened off their mother, Baird said.

They're already starting to show their personalities.

"Panpan ... seeks mom's attention quite a bit and he kind of has his own agenda," she said. "Yueyue is more ... trainable and she is exploratory."

Alberta contributed $10 million and the City of Calgary gave $8.15 million toward the panda project. Having the pandas in Calgary is predicted to boost tourism revenues by $16 million to $18 million this year.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.