Brace yourself, Vancouver. ‘Pandamonium’ is coming to the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park.
The federal government announced today that Canada’s pair of Chinese giant pandas on loan from China will spend five additional years in the country at a new exhibition coming to the Vancouver Aquarium. The project is being touted as a breeding program given that the pandas are still one of the world’s most endangered species.
Under the original ‘panda diplomacy’ agreement with China, Da Mao and his prospective mate Er Shun arrived in Canada in 2013 and are contracted to spend five years at both the Toronto Zoo and Calgary Zoo. The pair are currently located at the Toronto Zoo and are scheduled to be relocated to the Calgary Zoo in 2018.
A recent contract extension will allow the pandas to spend five years at the Vancouver Aquarium beginning in 2023, after their stay in Calgary ends.
But it will be anything but a cheap endeavour. Beginning in 2021, pending Vancouver Park Board approval, $5 million will be spent to construct a 8,500 square foot living environment that consists of both outdoor and indoor space. The facilities also consist of a pool for the pandas to swim in as well as a lab/nursery space, changing room, maternity area, food preparation area and a visitor’s learning centre.
The Chinese government charges a rental fee of $1 million for each panda, which goes towards panda conservation and breeding programs in China, and there is an extra cost of $200,000 if a cub is successfully born. Like the facilities in Toronto and Calgary, the Vancouver Aquarium retains the option of keeping the cubs for a permanent exhibit.
The most significant annual operational cost is food as the furry creatures are picky eaters: The pandas will be served 50 kilograms of bamboo each day, but they are only expected to eat about 10 to 15 kilograms. At a cost of approximately $400,000 per year, bamboo will be flown in from China on a weekly basis.
While the federal and provincial governments will cover the cost of constructing the new pen, the Vancouver Aquarium will be responsible for the operational costs of the exhibit.
Proponents say they will break even as the pandas are expected to generate additional revenue through merchandise sales and gate admissions. Annual attendance at the Vancouver Aquarium is currently just over one million – a figure that could increase by about 250,000 to 300,000 per year with the black and white cuddly attraction in place.
Private sector entities are also expected to come forward as sponsors of the exhibit.
“With its world renowned animal care, conservation initiatives, and research and educational programs, the Vancouver Aquarium is a natural partner for the project,” says Chao Li, Deputy Consul General for the People’s Republic of China. “This is a culturally significant occasion and we are confident the Aquarium will be able to provide the best care for the breeding pair of giant pandas. We are hopeful for the success in breeding.”
Staff from the Vancouver Aquarium will travel to China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and work closely with zoo officials in Toronto and Calgary over the coming years to take advantage of their experiences and knowledge gained in caring for the pandas.
The contract extension with China on Canada’s panda loan is a sign that relations between the two countries are becoming stronger and more amiable.