On March 25, 2013 the Toronto Zoo welcomes two giant pandas as part of a new giant panda conservation initiative that they entered into with China in February 2012. This will be the first time since 1985 that pandas have visited the Toronto Zoo and will strengthen the long-term conservation partnership agreement between China and Canada.
Er Shun (female) and Da Mao (male) will arrive on March 25 at the FedEx Express tarmac at Toronto Pearson International Airport before being carefully transported to their quarantine area at the Zoo. These two pandas were selected to come to Canada as they are an excellent genetic match for breeding. They will spend five years in the Toronto Zoo before residing in the Calgary Zoo for an additional five years.
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Fast Company: Two Pandas Successfully Shipped Across the Globe: Here’s How
Time.com: FedEx Panda Express is Shipping Pandas from China to Canada
Da Mao being begins his journey from China to Canada – March 24, 2013
The Panda Express will leave Chengdu, China and travel 12, 875 kilometers across the Pacific before landing in Toronto, Canada on March 25, 2013! The pandas will be carefully off-loaded and brought to the Toronto Zoo where they will stay for the next five years.
First the pandas have to get to the airport on time for their departure. Da Mao lives in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding so his commute to the Chengdu airport will be relatively short. Er Shun on the other hand will be travelling for about four hours before she reaches the tarmac. Once they’re on-board the total flight time will be over 15 hours.
The FedEx® flight crew that will be on board the Panda Express was specifically chosen because of their experience with transporting large animals and our Load Master will travel with the pandas to ensure the pandas safely get both on and off the plane. For the Chengdu-Toronto move, we’re privileged to have a Load Master with five panda shipments under his belt, including the first ever FedEx panda flight back in 2000.
Our goal is to have the pandas’ travel be as comfortable as possible. The on-board vet and two attendants will have constant access to the pandas at all times during the flight, with a small exception of course, during take-off and landing where the attendants are required to be safely seated with seatbelts on.
Before a typical flight, most of us make a list and pack a few items in our carry on so we’re comfortable while on board. Pandas are no different – the vet and attendants will need to make sure they have the following on board for each panda:
- 100 kgs of bamboo
- 150 kgs bamboo shoots
- 50 kg of apples
- 15 kgs of fresh water
In-flight catering and a comfortable cabin temperature for the pandas should make for an enjoyable journey half way across the world!
The Importance of the Toronto Zoo Panda Breeding Program – March 20, 2013
Part of the reason the world panda population is low (only approximately 2, 000 left) is because it is quite difficult for them to reproduce. Their large size causes female pandas to only have one reproductive cycle each year, and they usually only produce offspring every second year because their cubs depend on them until they are 18 months of age. The total pregnancy period is unknown as sometimes the fertilized panda egg doesn’t immediately implant on the uterine wall. Generally, however, once implanted the fetus takes one to one and a half months to develop.
Despite the large size of mature pandas, their cubs weigh between just .08 and .2 kilograms at birth (about the size of a stick of butter). This makes them 900 times smaller than their mothers. At six to eight weeks the cubs will open their eyes, at three months they will become mobile and they will continue to feed from their mothers for eight to nine months. Signature black and white colouring starts to appear after one month and at age four to eight they will begin breeding and will continue to breed until they reach age 20.
“Giant panda breeding season has begun. At this time, reproductive labs in many zoos are focusing on their panda breeding pairs. Male pandas are being assessed for sperm quality and the samples are being frozen for potential use later on. Female pandas’ urine samples are being evaluated for estrogen levels to detect the short window of opportunity when they are in heat and receptive to the male. This information is necessary to time a breeding introduction or an artificial insemination attempt. This year, our young pair will be travelling and undergoing quarantine together. But next year, we’ll be ready to observe them and monitor their reproductive activity to assist them with their breeding efforts.
Although natural breeding is the focus of all breeding programs, giant panda successes in captivity have been minimal. After many years of research, artificial insemination in giant pandas is as effective as natural breeding with pregnancy rates close to 60%. Living offspring have been produced with fresh, cooled and frozen-thawed sperm. This technique will be implemented to enhance breeding outcomes while our pair is with us in Toronto.”
Er Shun and Da Mao have been specially matched as a breeding pair and the Toronto Zoo and FedEx® have our fingers crossed that they will be successful in contributing to the panda population during their stay here in Canada!
One of the most important things the Toronto Zoo needed to consider for the two giant pandas that will arrive on March 25th was how to maintain their finicky diet. The Zoo will need to supply fresh bamboo for 80-90% of the panda’s diet and leaf eater biscuits, dog chow, apples and vitamins to make up the rest.
Giant pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo, but they’re not very efficient at digesting plant materials. Their digestive system is more similar to a carnivore’s, with large muscular walls, and because of the pandas’ lazy lifestyle, not much protein is absorbed and little energy is provided from the bamboo diet. In order to get enough nutrients pandas have to eat, on average, 14-20 kilograms of bamboo every day, which takes them approximately 10-16 hours to eat! As a result they often defecate up to 40 times each day.
Eating this much bamboo is no simple task! Bamboo stalks are tough to chew through, but pandas have large, flat molars that allow them to crush and grind bamboo stalks and a thick mucus layer in their stomach to avoid getting splinters from the woody diet. They also have an enlarged wrist bone that acts like an opposable digit similar to that of a human thumb, and helps them get a good grip on the stalks.
So where is all of this bamboo going to come from? FedEx will be supplying continued support to Er Shun and Da Mao during their stay at the Toronto Zoo by transporting bamboo up from Memphis three times each week. Pandas are picky eaters so FedEx will need to supply 600-900 kilograms of bamboo every week to sustain their diet. The bamboo will be grown and harvested at the Memphis Zoo, which happens to be close to the main FedEx Hub, and will be carefully packaged in bundles, delivered and placed in cold storage once it arrives at the Toronto Zoo.