Friday, May 17, 2013

The Toronto Zoo's Newest Stars - Welcome Pandas!

More long weekend fun for the family! Well, this fun will actually be lasting a lot longer than that. I'm sure you've heard about the coming of the Giant Pandas to Canada. These two gorgeous creatures, Er Shun and Da Mao, will spend the next 5 years at the Toronto Zoo, then will move on to the Calgary Zoo for the remaining 5 years of their 10 year stay. It is hoped that the pair will successfully mate and produce offspring during their time here. (Everyone goes home to China at the end of the 10 years.)

The pair have been settling in at the Toronto Zoo for the past few weeks, but they are now ready to meet their adoring fans. Tomorrow, May 18, the panda exhibit will open to the public. Today, I attended a media & members preview day to get a sneak peek. There was excitement in the air!
Er Shun, 5 year old female (photo credit: Toronto Zoo)
Da Mao, 4 year old male (photo credit: Toronto Zoo)
The Giant Panda Experience is comprised of both indoor and outdoor exhibit areas, with ample access for viewing. The pandas will usually not be seen together as they are solitary animals. Today, Da Mao was in an outdoor area, eating his way through a huge supply of bamboo; Er Shun was inside posing for the cameras. She came right up to the glass and seemed to be checking us all out, just as we were her.

Before entering the animal area, visitors travel through the Panda Interpretive Centre, an 8,000 square foot environment with interpretive features designed by the architectural firm Reich+Petch that will offer a 10-­30 minute educational experience year round. With a projected attendance of up to 10,000 visitors each day during peak periods, the centre was visioned with both traffic flow and educational entertainment in mind. 

“Reich+Petch has been thrilled to lead the team working with the Toronto Zoo in the development and design of the Panda Education Centre,” says Carolyn Smith, senior designer at Reich+Petch. “Within the Centre, visitors will be immersed in everything they need to know about this iconic, fascinating and endangered animal. Our combined aspiration is that the experience will inspire visitors to join in the conservation and efforts currently underway to help protect this and other endangered species.”

Time for some Giant Panda fun facts!

1. A panda needs to consume a comparatively large amount of food – from 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 pounds) of bamboo each day – to get all of its nutrients. It is thought that the giant panda will only consume the best bamboo and therefore the animal has very selective feeding behaviour (it will reject normally up to 85% of bamboo offered), and it will need to go through at least 50 kilograms of bamboo per day to find the best bamboo. This can take up to 16 hours of eating per day! The rest is spent mostly sleeping and resting.

2. Giant pandas do not hibernate because their food source, bamboo, is available year round and their diet does not permit them to build up enough fat to carry them through a hibernation period. However, they will shelter temporarily in hollow trees, rock crevices and caves during the winter.

3. Giant Pandas can eat 25 different types of bamboo, but they usually eat only four or five that grow in their home range.

4. If two cubs are born the mother will only look after one of them, so in captivity keepers will help raise any twin cubs using a method called "twin swapping". One baby is left with the mother and the keepers switch the twins every few days so each one gets care and milk directly from the mother.

5. Panda cubs are born blind and extremely immature, weighing only 80-200 grams, and are about the size of a stick of butter. They are pink in color, with short sparse white hair, and are 1/900th the size of their mother, one of the smallest newborn mammals relative to its mother's size.

6. Giant panda females are monoestrous, which means they have only one reproductive cycle per year and that is the only time the female is receptive to the male and that is only for a period of 24 to 72 hours. Calls and scent marking attract males and females to each other.

7. One cannot easily tell if a giant panda is a male or a female until it is four years old. Due to the difficulty of determining the sex of pandas it was believed that Er Shun was a male until genetic testing was done.

8. In the past the black and white markings on giant pandas may have helped them to blend into their snowy and rocky surroundings to avoid natural predators.

9. The Chinese call the giant pandas "Big Bear Cat." This is because their eyes have vertical slits like a cat's, not round pupils like a bear's.

10. Giant pandas can swim and climb trees.

11. The giant panda's teeth are approximately seven times bigger than a human's teeth, which helps the giant panda chew and eat bamboo.

12. Unique physical features that help giant pandas to hold, crush and eat bamboo are broad, flat molar teeth and an enlarged wrist bone that functions as an opposable thumb.

13. Following ancient Chinese tradition, giant panda cubs are not to be named until they have been alive for 100 days.

14. Given its large diet, giant pandas can defecate up to 40 times a day.

15. Giant pandas are ready to breed between four and eight years of age and may be reproductive until about age 20.

16. Under the giant panda's white fur, their skin is pale in colour and under the black fur, their skin is black!

If you will be in the Toronto area, the Toronto Zoo is always a great option for a family outing, but now the novelty of the Giant Pandas makes it even more so. The Zoo is open year-round, other than Christmas Day. Admission is $18 for children 3-12, $23 for seniors, and $28 for adults. Or, you can purchase an annual membership ($195 family), which pays for itself for a family of 4 after the second visit.

To see photos from my visit this morning, head on over to my Facebook page!

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