All Aboard the Panda Express

Two giant pandas are shipped to a new home in Canada

Mar 27, 2013 | By Cameron Keady
FRED THORNHILL—REUTERS

The Panda Express airplane was designed especially for the pandas' long journey from China to Canada.

FedEx delivered some very precious cargo this week. On March 25, two giant pandas were shipped from China to Canada. The bears received a warm welcome to North America from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai.

The pandas will spend 10 years in Canada—five at the Toronto Zoo, then five at the Calgary Zoo. This is the first time in 20 years that giant pandas have been loaned to a Canadian zoo, according to a FedEx press release. "I want to offer my sincere thanks to the government of China for sharing these two pandas, symbols of peace and friendship, with all Canadians," Prime Minister Harper told the Canadian Press.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs for the pandas at Pearson Airport in Toronto, on March 25.
FRANK GUNN—THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs for the pandas at Pearson Airport in Toronto, on March 25.

Safe Travels

The giant pandas are named Er Shun and Da Mao. Er Shun, a five-year-old female, came from Chongqing Zoo, in southwest China. Da Mao, a four-year-old male, traveled from Chengdu, which is home to China’s top panda research and breeding center.

The two bears traveled in style. FedEx designed a special airplane called the Panda Express, which features a large image of a panda on its exterior. Onboard, Er Shun and Da Mao traveled comfortably in white enclosures with holes for breathing. In the weeks leading up to their departure, the cages were placed in the pandas’ habitats in China so they could get used to them before the long journey.

The panda passengers were given plenty of snacks throughout the flight. Each panda received more than 200 pounds of bamboo and 100 pounds of apples. Yum!  

A Precious Population

Specialists chose these pandas for breeding purposes, as part of an effort to help boost the bears’ population numbers. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that there are only 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild.

The panda’s decline is due in part to the loss of their primary food source, bamboo. The plant makes up 99% of the bears' diet, with some pandas eating about 40 pounds of it a day. According to a recent study published in the science journal Nature Climate Change, warming temperatures are causing a shortage of bamboo in at least one region of China where pandas live.

The climate in Er Shun and Da Mao ‘s new home in Canada is not ideal for growing bamboo. Twice a week, the Memphis Zoo, in Tennessee, will ship about 700 pounds of the green plant up north to the Toronto Zoo. While the pandas will be far from China, zookeepers plan to make Canada feel like home.