Time is running out for the giant pandas’ food supply at the Calgary Zoo.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused much chaos when it effectively shut down businesses, travel, and though much has reopened, the still-active virus continues to cause logistical nightmares for many — including two pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao.
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Both animals are on loan from China, and spent five years in Toronto between 2014 and 2019 before flying to Calgary for another expected five-year stay.
That visit was cut short by the global pandemic, as the zoo announced in May its plans to fly both pandas back to China so that they have easier access to bamboo — which accounts for 99% of their diet — as the Calgary Zoo’s supply line of bamboo was broken by coronavirus-caused transportation barriers.
“We believe the best and safest place for Er Shun and Da Mao to be during these challenging and unprecedented times is where bamboo is abundant and easy to access,” said Calgary Zoo President and CEO Dr. Clément Lanthier, in a May 12 release.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make but the health and well-being of the animals we love and care for always comes first.”
However, an August 5 update from the zoo states that the two pandas have not yet been able to fly back home due to difficulty in securing international travel permits.
With Er Shun and Da Mao stuck in Canada for the time being, the Calgary Zoo is worried about their dwindling bamboo supply, as both pandas eat around 40 kg of the stuff every day.
When direct flights between Calgary and China were first cancelled, the zoo began routing the food through Toronto. However, fewer flights between China and Toronto removed that option, leaving the zoo to find other suppliers.
According to the May 12 release, some of these suppliers were slower than acceptable, resulting in poor bamboo quality that the pandas refused to eat.
“I am continually amazed by the resourcefulness and dedication of our team,” said Lanthier in the May release.
“Unfortunately, they are fighting against forces much greater than the Calgary Zoo. Even the Canadian government had to fly empty planes out of China.”
By August, the zoo had found a supplier out of BC, though that supply is expected to run out in September due to reduced daylight.
Both pandas are in good health, though the Panda Passage exhibit has been closed to the public to support their quarantined travel preparations.