Calgary’s zoo will hold a week-long celebration for four-year-old panda twins Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue before their imminent departure for China, likely sometime next month.
The male and female offspring of Panda Passage matriarch Er Shun are slated to jet to China in mere weeks as part of a loan agreement struck with that nation’s government that saw the cuddly clan spend five years at Toronto’s Zoo prior to landing in Calgary last year for another five-year stint.
But the cubs, whose names translate to Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy, are nearing the end of their 18-month stay, though zoo spokeswoman Alison Archambault said the complexities of securing air transportation for the siblings makes it difficult to pin down exactly when they’ll be officially leaving.
“Transportation arrangements have been challenging to find a cost effective way to get them back,” she said, noting the duo have to be flown directly to Chengdu, home of China’s giant panda breeding research base.
Since their arrival last May, the twins have become among the most popular inhabitants of the St. George’s Island attraction, with their roly-poly antics making the $14-million Panda Passage exhibit a must-see for zoo-goers.
Archambault said Calgarians will be given a final chance to bid farewell to the panda pair with a week’s worth of activities tentatively slated for the week of Sept. 30.
“We will have a farewell week at the end of September. We recognize that Calgarians have become really attached to them and we want to give people a chance to say goodbye,” she said.
“We have a number of things planned that we’re just finalizing. There will be a whole bunch of activities happening around Panda Passage.”
Their departure should come right around the same time zookeepers learn whether 12-year-old Er Shun will again grace her Canadian hosts with a new generation of baby pandas, as she did with Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue in Toronto.
While Er Shun was artificially inseminated back in April , panda pregnancies are notoriously tricky to confirm, often only becoming clear within weeks of birth.
Last month, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C. trumpeted behavioural and hormonal changes in their own panda Mei Xiang, suggesting it could indicate cubs on the way. But last week, officials confirmed the Mei Xiang, who has successfully given birth to three previous cubs, was experiencing a so-called pseudo-pregnancy for several months, a state that mimics all the regular signs of pregnancy.
As female pandas ovulate only three times every year, those hoping to boost a species whose wild population is only around 1,800 have a very small window to work with.
“We are anxiously awaiting news. But we should be in a position to formally confirm it by the end of September,” Archambault said, adding the timing has nothing to do with the looming departure of her now-adolescent offspring, who were always slated to be returned to China this fall.
Meanwhile, veterinary staff at the zoo continue to monitor Er Shun with regular ultrasounds and watching hormone levels for signs of a successful pregnancy.
“As soon as we detect a fetal heartbeat, we’ll know for sure, and then it could be just a couple of weeks,” Archambault said.
“We have all our fingers and toes crossed.”
On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019