Zoos prepare to welcome pandas

The details are fuzzy and the logistics are up in the air, but the cat’s out of the bag — pandas are coming to Canada.

The details are fuzzy and the logistics are up in the air, but the cat’s out of the bag — pandas are coming to Canada.

A joint statement from Ottawa and the Chinese government announced that a pair of the doe-eyed bears would be loaned to Canadian zoos as part of collaborative research on conservation.

The Calgary Zoo confirmed on Thursday it would play host to the pandas for half of their 10-year stay, with the Toronto Zoo serving as home base for the remaining five years.

Zoo communications manager Laurie Skene said the two governments are still working out details, including the ages and genders of the animals and the zoo they’ll visit first.

The Toronto Zoo declined to comment. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to release more information on Saturday as part of his visit to China.

Skene said the Calgary Zoo is abuzz with the prospect of welcoming pandas back to the ground for the first time since 1988, when Qun Qun and Xi Xi’s eight-month sojourn drew record crowds.

Negotiations surrounding the latest pair of pandas were in the works for nearly two years, she said, adding the original plan would have seen them spend time in three cities.

“It was always for a 10-year loan, but it initially involved three zoos which would have meant a shorter stay in each city,” Skene said.

“Now that it’s just Toronto and Calgary that are going to be the participant zoos once everything’s finalized,it’s exciting that they’ll be here for longer than we initially thought.”

Skene said the pandas’ arrival will usher in a host of logistical complications, including the question of where to house them.

The zoo built a $900,000 enclosure in 1988, but changing standards may require the zoo to upgrade or even completely retool the facilities.

Some groups have expressed concern about Calgary’s suitability for the task.

National watchdog ZooCheck Canada said both the Toronto and Calgary venues have been dogged with financial problems that may prevent them from housing the animals adequately.

Calgary Zoo’s track record has been marred in recent years by a spate of animal deaths ranging from sting rays to baby elephants.

The zoo itself ordered an independent review of its animal care procedures at the end of 2009.

Woodyer said pandas present unique challenges for facilities hoping to house them for long stretches of time.

“All bears, including pandas, are a complex species,” she said. “It takes a great amount of space, in particular. They should be provided with a natural area…having all-live foliage in the enclosure and so on. Bears are pretty complex and one of the animals that is among the worst candidates for captivity.”

Barry Kent MacKay, Canadian representative of Born Free U.S.A., suggested the pandas’ feeding protocols may also pose problems.

The bamboo on which the animals thrive is not naturally available in Canada, and the artificial substitute usually used in captivity often results in higher energy levels that aren’t conducive to life in an enclosure.

But pandas also boast docile dispositions that make life easier on zoo-keepers.

Animal-watchers around the world are drawn to pandas for their winning personalities as much as their physical traits, adding they served as prototypes for the modern-day teddy bear.

Their large heads, soulful eyes, and vulnerable appearance remind people of human infants and trigger desires to fawn over the cuddly critters, he said.

“They’re rolly-polly, they’re innocuous, there’s just something very appealing, and of course they’re rare,” MacKay said. “I think all of that put together makes them a very big draw.”

Skene said the bears appeal will lie mostly in their importance to the environmental movement, since they have emerged as a symbol of global conservation efforts.

MacKay, for his part, hopes the environmental message won’t be lost in the hype over the visiting Pandas.

“What I’m trying to get away from is this knee-jerk sense that if you put two of these cute animals in a cage where Torontonians and Calgarians and visitors to our respective cities get to see them that this translates into education and conservation and science. It doesn’t. It’s just entertainment.”

Just Posted

Man from Olds killed in collision near Sundre

A 39-year-old man from Olds was killed in a collision near Sundre… Continue reading

Tips to keep crime at bay this Christmas

’Tis the season for joy and celebration, but the Christmas season can… Continue reading

Olympic ski run designer creates upgrades at Canyon Ski Resort

Jeff Ihaksi says free-style and alpine ski venues are Canada Winter Games-worthy

Updated: Collision expert backs version of crash of driver accused of manslaughter

Daniel Newsham accused of manslaughter in fatal 2016 collision

WATCH: More than 100 protest UN migration pact, carbon tax in Red Deer

Chants of “Trudeau must go” echoed through the streets of downtown Red… Continue reading

Tkachuk’s goal in 3rd gives Flames 2-1 win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matthew Tkachuk scored the go-ahead goal midway through… Continue reading

Women use scent to lure wolf-dog that ran away from Calgary airport

EDMONTON — A woman from Alberta is thanking an unconventional strategy for… Continue reading

Suspect in Alberta, Saskatchewan bank robberies to get mental assessment

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A former Winnipeg broadcaster and journalism instructor accused… Continue reading

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says his government hopes to make legal changes… Continue reading

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — There was no winning ticket for the $60 million jackpot… Continue reading

All evacuation orders lifted in deadly California wildfire

PARADISE, Calif. — All evacuation orders have been lifted in Paradise more… Continue reading

All aflutter about our feathered friends

Christmas Bird Count will be held Dec. 23

Baylor ties pervade rape case that sparked uproar

DALLAS — The Texas judge who approved a plea deal allowing a… Continue reading

Most Read