TORONTO — A pair of panda cubs born in the Toronto Zoo were hailed as a symbol of international co-operation as they officially received names that pay tribute to the country of their birth.
In a ceremony packed with dignitaries including China’s ambassador, the zoo announced the male cub is named Jia Panpan, meaning Canadian Hope, while the female cub is named Jia Yueyue, meaning Canadian Joy.
The names were written on pink and blue signs and unveiled to great fanfare.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne were among those getting the first glimpse of the cubs, who have been held in a special maternity area.
Both posed for photos with the cubs — an opportunity Trudeau joked his children would envy.
The prime minister tweeted photos of himself cuddling the cubs but media outlets were not allowed to capture the private visit.
A spokeswoman said it was the zoo’s idea to give the dignitaries a “unique experience.”
“It was going to be a private (event), we had our photographer there as well who has taken pictures and each of their own photographers,” said Jennifer Tracey, senior director of marketing for the Toronto Zoo.
“Just based on the number of media we had, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to accommodate everybody and we had to do it very quick.”
The cubs were brought to their outdoor exhibit after their names were revealed — their first time on display since their birth last October. They played with a ball and nibbled on bamboo in front of dozens of cameras.
Trudeau said the pandas represent the growing bond between their host country and China, where they will eventually be returned, noting he had received a message of congratulations from his Chinese counterpart.
“The panda is a symbol of peace and friendship, which is fitting considering Canada’s ever-growing relationship with China,” Trudeau said.
“The birth of these pandas on the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and China is a wonderful and serendipitous coincidence.”
The cubs marked their 100th day in January and are now considered to have survived their infancy.
Their mother, Er Shun, is on loan from China, along with a male panda named Da Mao.
Both arrived in 2013 and are slated to be moved to the Calgary Zoo in 2018 before they go back to China.
Zoo staff have said the cubs will live at the zoo for about two years and will likely return to China once they are weaned from Er Shun.
A special committee was set up to compile possible monikers, which were then put to a public vote.
The cubs are set to be introduced to the general public this weekend.