Calgary Zoo to ship giant pandas back to China early due to difficulty getting bamboo during pandemic

The Calgary Zoo is shipping two giant pandas back to China years ahead of schedule due to difficulty obtaining bamboo amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zoo staff have struggled to import enough bamboo to feed giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao — who are on loan to Canada from China — due to flights being disrupted by the pandemic.

In a release issued Tuesday, the zoo said it expects the supply of the panda’s main food could be further disrupted by transportation struggles on very short notice, including if there is a second wave of COVID-19.

Fresh bamboo makes up nearly the entire diet of a panda, and an adult can eat roughly 40 kilograms a day.

Er Shun, an adult female giant panda, has been in Calgary since 2014. (Calgary Zoo)

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Calgary Zoo was ordering loads of bamboo to be flown directly from China to Calgary.

Cancelled flights, poor quality bamboo

The pandemic, however, forced the cancellations of direct flights.

WestJet then moved to ship the bamboo through Toronto, the statement from the zoo said, but flights from China to Toronto were cut back as well.

“The Calgary Zoo team has worked tirelessly with alternate bamboo suppliers to find a way to keep the giant pandas fed, despite misdirected shipments, slower than acceptable delivery times causing some poor quality bamboo that the giant pandas won’t eat, and concern with limited supplies,” the zoo’s statement said.

“Forces beyond the zoo’s control could disrupt these remaining lines of supply at any time — and without warning.”

In China, the pandas will have access to fresh and local bamboo, eliminating the supply concern.

Members of the public will be able to send in virtual farewells to the pandas using the PandaCam.

The giant pandas were expected to stay in Canada for 10 years through an agreement with China. They arrived in 2014 to spend five years in Toronto. They had two cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, and moved to Calgary in 2018.

The cubs were later moved to China.

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