Stranded giant pandas running out of food, Calgary Zoo says

The zoo has been unable to secure international travel permits to send the pandas back to China because of import laws that changed due to COVID-19, and the animals' bamboo supply is running out.

Zoo can't obtain travel permits to send pandas back to China as B.C. bamboo supply dwindles

Er Shun is one of two pandas on loan to the Calgary Zoo from China. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Two giant pandas are stranded at the Calgary Zoo and running out of food.

The pandas, who are named Er Shun and Da Mao, arrived in Canada in 2014 as part of a 10-year agreement between Canada and China. 

They came to stay at the Calgary Zoo in March 2018 with cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, after spending five years at the Toronto Zoo.

The cubs returned to China in January 2020, and in May, the zoo said that it would be sending Er Shun and Da Mao back to China after bamboo supply lines evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it has since been unable to secure approval for the necessary international travel permits to do so, the zoo announced on Wednesday, because China's import laws and quarantine facilities changed due to COVID-19.

"China is, like so many other countries in the world, responding to this COVID issue, and that's affecting some of their import regulations," Calgary Zoo chief operating officer Greg Royer told CBC News.

"So they're … trying to figure out exactly what information they need to bring the pandas back to China."

Bamboo supply puts pandas in jeopardy

The Calgary Zoo stressed that when it comes to their food, giant pandas have specific and important needs.

Ninety-nine per cent of their diet is made up of fresh bamboo, the release said, and each adult giant panda consumes approximately 40 kilograms of bamboo daily.

But the Calgary Zoo mainly sourced its bamboo from China, which is no longer a viable option, Royer said.

Now, it is only able to reliably get fresh bamboo from a supplier in British Columbia, who started growing it years ago solely to feed the arriving pandas — but as a backup bamboo source. 

That supply was always intended to be supplementary, Royer said, and is due to run out in September.

Calgary Zoo chief operating officer Greg Royer. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

"[The B.C. supplier has] done a great job, but there is a limited amount of bamboo there," Royer said.

"Our concern is, as we run out of the supply in British Columbia, it's going to become significantly more difficult to find bamboo to get to Calgary to feed to the animals."

While there is a lot of bamboo in the world, not all of it is suitable to feed to the animals, Royer said.

Should the Calgary Zoo exhaust its bamboo supply, the last resort is "scrounging" for bamboo.

"Which is something we're very uncomfortable with," Royer said. "That's not a particularly good way to feed the animals, and not a very predictable way to feed the animals."

'No villains' in panda travel delay

The pandas have to be ready to go back to China at any moment, so they are currently in quarantine at the Calgary Zoo and are not viewable to the public.

Though the pandas are healthy, their dwindling food supply is a constant worry for zoo staff.

"The continued delays in international permitting is putting the health and welfare of these two beautiful giant pandas in jeopardy," Calgary Zoo president and CEO Dr. Clément Lanthier was quoted as saying in the Wednesday statement.

But Royer stressed to CBC that there are also no villains in this unprecedented situation.

"Nobody is trying to stop the pandas from going home," Royer said.

"We just need a couple heroes to show up to move some mountains to get them back."

Royer said the zoo is hopeful the issue will be resolved by the last week of September or the first week of October.


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