Panda exhibit opens at Toronto Zoo

The long -awaited day for the public unveiling of a pair of giant pandas at the Toronto Zoo has finally arrived.

'They're quite different in their behaviour'

The pandas will remain at the Toronto Zoo for five years before heading to Calgary. (Toronto Zoo)

The long -awaited day for the public unveiling of a pair of giant pandas at the Toronto Zoo has finally arrived.

Da Mao,a four-year-old male, and Er Shun, a five-year-old female, became the biggest celebrities in the city when their display opened to the public on Saturday morning.

As the zoo's latest stars settle into their sprawling new home, their personalities have begun to emerge — and they couldn't be more different, said William Rapley, the zoo's executive director of conservation, education and wildlife.

"They're quite different in their behaviour, and animals vary a lot. The male, Da Mao, is very outgoing, he's kind of a rock star," he said.

Er Shun, meanwhile, is shy and "tends to want to not be with maybe as many people or whatever so far, but she's going to adjust to that," he said.

The pandas arrived in Canada in March on a special flight from China, and will spend five years at the Toronto Zoo. They will then be moved to the Calgary Zoo, which has announced a major redesign to house the new visitors.

The Toronto and Calgary zoos played host to pandas in 1985 and 1988, respectively, while another couple took up a brief residence at the Winnipeg Zoo in 1989.

The pandas' arrival was touted by Canadian and Chinese officials alike as a sign that ties between the two countries are getting stronger.

The panda habitat also includes several indoor areas and a combination laboratory and nursery space, in the hopes the pair will eventually reproduce.

Pandas are solitary by nature and must be kept apart except when mating, zoo staff said.

But breeding them is a tricky process because female pandas are only receptive to the male for 24 to 72 hours each year, said Maria Franke, the zoo's curator of mammals.

"We've just got to be patient and keep our fingers crossed," she said.

Feeding them is another challenge, Franke said.

Pandas are finicky eaters who turn up their noses at most of the bamboo they're given, she said. Even so, they consume 10 to 15 kilograms of bamboo each day, which can take up to 16 hours.

The pair's meals are being flown in from Memphis, Tenn.,  twice a week, Franke said.

In a ceremony on Friday to introduce the pandas, Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai joked the animals were being so well cared for in Canada they may never want to return to their homeland.