Er Shun and Da Mao arrive in Toronto for five-year stay

TORONTO – They’re finally here — two giant pandas on loan to Canada from China have touched down in Toronto.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen and Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai are among those on hand to welcome the furry black and white beasts to the country.

Five-year-old Er Shun and her prospective mate, four-year-old Da Mao, arrived in the “Panda Express,” a specially outfitted FedEx Express Canada plane branded with an image of a panda on its exterior.

Their arrival — the first panda visit in 24 years — marks the realization of a deal reached when Harper visited China just over a year ago, and is seen as a symbol of a significant thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The pandas will be taken in specially branded trucks from the tarmac to the Toronto Zoo, where they will live for five years before being transferred to the Calgary Zoo for another five years.

Once they arrive at the Toronto Zoo today, the pandas will be quarantined for 30 days and kept away from the public until a special exhibit opens later this year.

The animals have been travelling in customized enclosures constructed by FedEx, with which they were familiarized days before their departure. A veterinarian and two attendants have been accompanying them to see to their every need.

In addition to transporting them on a plane well stocked with bamboo, water and “panda toys,” FedEx has agreed to bring in up to 900 kilograms of bamboo three times a week from the Memphis Zoo for the duration of the pandas’ stay.

The Toronto and Calgary Zoos played host to pandas in 1985 and 1988, respectively, while another couple took up a brief residence at the Winnipeg Zoo in 1989.