Panda cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue frolic during the official opening of Panda Passage at the Calgary Zoo on Monday. (Photo: China News Service/Yu Reidong)
The giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao, along with their Toronto-born cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, made their public debut at the Calgary Zoo's Panda Passage on Monday, where the furry family attracted hundreds of eager visitors.
"This is a monumental achievement that required six years of preparations to welcome these giant pandas and thousands of additional visitors to our zoo," said Clément Lanthier, the zoo's president and CEO. "We're planning to use the rock-star status of the panda to attract people in a conversation to talk about the less-charismatic endangered species of Western Canada, mostly."
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Lois Mitchell, Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi, Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi and Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye also attended the opening ceremony.
The adult bears, who were transported from Toronto to Calgary earlier this spring and spent about a month in quarantine, will settle at the zoo for five years, where they're expected to have more cubs.
Their 2-year-old cubs — whose names mean Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy — will return to China in 18 months.
Each of the pandas eats 40 kilograms of bamboo a day, which is shipped twice weekly from China through a partnership between the zoo and Hainan Airlines.
Over the past five years, about 6 million Canadians have watched the giant pandas at the Toronto Zoo. The family's arrival in Calgary is expected to increase attendance at the zoo by 25 percent in the first year, boosting it to 1.5 million, with an economic impact of $18 million during the Canada-China Year of Tourism.
Notley said it's an opportunity to build on the growing relationship between Canada and China, and the panda ambassadors will help to promote the province's international profile as well.
"It's even a greater opportunity to promote Alberta and to bring tourists to this amazing zoo," she said. "This is already the most visited zoo in the country, and with these pandas, that will grow even more."
Lu said that the pandas will help strengthen people-to-people and cultural exchanges.
"Alberta's cooperation with China is at the forefront for many years," said Lu. "Alberta is hosting the largest number of Chinese enterprises investing in Canada, and China is its second- largest trading partner. I believe that driven by the Giant Pandas' settlement, the prospect of cooperation between China and Alberta will become even broader."