2020-08-06 08:40:42

Homo sapiens aren’t the only mammals caught in the crossfire of coronavirus travel restrictions.

Two giant pandas at the Calgary Zoo are at risk of starvation due to a shortage of bamboo, with supply lines disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the state-run China News Service reported Thursday.

The zoo in Alberta, where Er Shun and Da Mao have lived for the past two years, has been scrambling to provide them with bamboo — the animals’ main source of food — since the woody plant’s supply from China was cut off because of crippled international shipping routes, according to the report.

In May, the Calgary Zoo said the pandas would be returned to China, where bamboo is native and plentiful. The zoo announced Wednesday, however, that it has been unable to secure international travel permits for the animals, citing changes in China’s import laws and quarantine procedure due to the pandemic.

“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 Clément Lanthier, the zoo’s president and CEO. “The continued delays in international permitting is putting the health and welfare of these two beautiful giant pandas in jeopardy.”

Two days after the May announcement, the director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, told the state-run Xinhua News Agency that the facility “looks forward” to the pandas’ return. “Chengdu is their homeland, after all,” he said. “They will be welcomed with the freshest, most delicious bamboo.”

Jia Yueyue is perched atop an artificial tree trunk in her enclosure at the Toronto Zoo in Ontario, Canada, Oct. 8, 2016. Steve Russell/Toronto Star/People Visual

Jia Yueyue is perched atop an artificial tree trunk in her enclosure at the Toronto Zoo in Ontario, Canada, Oct. 8, 2016. Steve Russell/Toronto Star/People Visual

Giant pandas are picky when it comes to just about everything, from what they eat to who they sleep with. Fresh bamboo makes up 99% of a panda’s diet, and the two animals at the Calgary Zoo each consume around 40 kilograms per day.

Previously, China had been sending two shipments of bamboo a week to help feed the pandas, but the pandemic has caused travel restrictions and a dramatic reduction in international flights, making cargo space scarce.

The Calgary Zoo is now sourcing fresh bamboo from an emergency supplier in British Columbia, though that supply is expected to run out in September.

Upon arriving in Canada in 2013 as part of a 10-year partnership with China, Er Shun and Da Mao were celebrated as symbols of fortified diplomatic ties between the two countries — ties that are now strained with Meng Wanzhou, an executive at telecom giant Huawei, under house arrest in Vancouver and awaiting extradition to the U.S.

In 2015, the two pandas had cubs, which the Toronto Zoo — their home at the time — named Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, meaning “Canadian Hope” and “Canadian Joy,” respectively. The cubs were sent to China earlier this year.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year Er Shun and Da Mao arrived in Canada.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Da Mao at leisure at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2018. Yu Ruidong/CNS/People Visual)