Toronto Zoo prepares to welcome pair of giant pandas

Toronto is just days away from seeing giant pandas return to the city for the first time in nearly three decades and the zoo can hardly wait.
A FedEx plane will deliver a pair of giant pandas to Toronto on Monday. 2:19

Toronto will soon have two new famous residents arriving within its boundaries: a pair of giant pandas named Er Shun and Da Mao.

When they arrive Monday, it will be the first time that giant pandas have been in Toronto in nearly three decades and the zoo can hardly wait.

"It's a countdown right now," Maria Franke, the Toronto Zoo's curator of mammals, told CBC News on Wednesday.

Curator Maria Franke says the zoo is counting down the days until the arrival of the giant pandas from China. (CBC)

The public won’t get to see the five-year-old Er Shun and four-year-old Da Mao immediately. The pandas will be quarantined for a month and their exhibit won't open until mid-May.

Twenty-eight years ago, the zoo hosted a pair of giant pandas for just over three months.

"It's very exciting. We did have them back in 1985, but it was really a short-term loan," Franke said.

This time around, the pandas coming to Toronto will be spending five years in the city. Then they will move on to Calgary for an additional five years.

"The fact that we're getting them here for five years, it’s a conservation partnership with China, so we hope to breed them — it's really exciting," Franke said.

The zoo is hoping that Er Shun, a female, and Da Mao, a male, can produce an offspring while in Toronto.

"Keep your fingers crossed," Franke said.

The zoo is building a special home for Er Shun and Da Mao, which has three large outdoor areas for them to roam.

The giant pandas are making their way to Canada via the so-called Federal Panda Express, an MD-11F plane that has been chartered for their journey.

Lisa Lisson, the president of FedEx Express Canada, said Er Shun and Da Mao will travel in special crates on the flight that will take them from Chengdu, China, to Vancouver, where the plane will refuel before heading to Toronto.

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The flight will be well-equipped with the supplies and personnel required to look after the pandas on their long journey.

"We've got 200 kilos of apples, 200 kilos of bamboo, special medical equipment, we've got a vet on board, plus two assistants to make sure they’re very, very safe during the transfer," Lisson said.

Lisson said FedEx will also be bringing hundreds of kilograms of bamboo for the pandas to eat throughout their stay in Toronto.

"They're very finicky eaters … and they eat between 10 and 16 hours a day and they eat quite a lot of bamboo," she said.

With a report from the CBC's Marivel Taruc