OTTAWA // Canada welcomed two cute and furry ambassadors yesterday - giant pandas on loan from China for 10 years to mark a warming of Sino-Canadian ties.
Er Shun and Da Mao landed in Toronto after a nearly 24-hour journey from the Research Base For Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, China, aboard a transport jet stocked with in-flight meals of bamboo and apples.
Their arrival was televised live on all major networks across Canada.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who secured the panda loan on his second official trip to China last year after much criticism for having been slow to develop bilateral relations, signed for the FedEx delivery.
"I'm truly delighted to host in Canada two great representatives from China, Er Shun and Da Mao," Harper said in a speech on the tarmac at the Toronto airport.
Zoos in Toronto and Calgary will host the animal pair, with keepers hoping they will reproduce while they are in Canada. The Toronto zoo is planning to open its panda exhibit in May, after a quarantine period.
Pandas are among the world's most endangered animals, and it is estimated there are fewer than 1,600 left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
It has been more than 20 years since a Canadian zoo has hosted a visiting panda, whose natural habitat is mountainous southwestern China.
Er Shun, the five-year-old female whose name translates to "Double Smoothness," was characterised by her handlers as "docile, yet lively." Her mate Da Mao, or "Big Fur," is said to be a "lively and tender gentleman."