Coun. Mammoliti wants panda cubs to extend stay in Toronto

The panda cubs officially named Monday are property of the Chinese government, but one city councillor wants to extend their stay in Toronto as long as possible.

'I think this should be their home,' says member of zoo's board of management

The Toronto Zoo unveiled the names today for the pair of panda cubs born in October at the Toronto Zoo. The male cub is Jia Panpan (translated to Canadian Hope) and his sister is Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy). Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti plans to petition the Chinese government, asking to extend the cubs stay in Toronto. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto Coun. Georgio Mammoliti likes the Toronto Zoo panda cubs so much, he'd like to extend their stay here.

​Mammoliti this morning told CBC News he intends to speak to the Chinese government about keeping the popular panda cubs at the Toronto Zoo where they were born last fall.

"The Toronto Zoo helped bring the two pandas into this world and I think there's an argument to try and keep them for as long as we can," he said Monday, minutes before the name unveiling announcement for Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, an event attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne. 

"I think this should be their home," said Mammoliti, one of two council representatives on the zoo's board of management. 

The cubs were born in Toronto in October to mother Er Shun, who along with male Da Mao arrived in Toronto in 2013 on loan from China. Er Shun was artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from Da Mao and two other pandas, so it's not known which panda is the father. 

The panda parents and their offspring remain property of the Chinese government, a point Mammoliti isn't contesting. He just wants to make a case for extending their stay in Canada now that the breeding program has been successful.

Pandas slated to move to Calgary in 2018

Mammoliti said he has permission from the Zoo's board of management to travel to China and float the idea to government officials there.

"We've proven to everybody that the zoo does a marvelous job of breeding," he said. "Now that they're here, we want to keep them. I certainly would like to start those conversations and the board has given us permission to do that."

As part of the agreement with China, the pandas are slated to relocate to the Calgary Zoo starting in 2018. 

A press release issued by the Zoo in 2012 says Toronto gets to keep Er Shun and Da Mao for a "minimum five-year term" which would end in 2018. The following line, however, suggests the pandas (both parents and cubs) could stay in Toronto now that the breeding program has been successful:

"In the event that breeding is successful while the pair are at the Toronto Zoo, the pandas and offspring would remain in Toronto until such time it is approved to move them."

It's that language Mammoliti hopes will leave the Chinese government open to extending the pandas' time in Toronto.

"Unless we start talking about it, we won't know" he said.