Da Mao eats bamboo. Canada is sending its two pandas back to China so they can get enough fresh bamboo. (AP)

Da Mao eats bamboo. Canada is sending its two pandas back to China so they can get enough fresh bamboo. (AP)

A panda’s diet is mostly bamboo, from the shoots to the leaves. Pandas must eat a lot of it to get the energy they need.

A panda’s diet is mostly bamboo, from the shoots to the leaves. Pandas must eat a lot of it to get the energy they need.

If you put all the bamboo forests in the world together, one fourth of the whole forest would be from China!

If you put all the bamboo forests in the world together, one fourth of the whole forest would be from China!

No Bamboo at the Zoo

Posted: July 1, 2020

“Send home the pandas. We’re out of bamboo!”

Canada’s Calgary Zoo keeps two giant pandas on loan from China. Well, it used to. Now the zoo is returning the beloved bears. Why? COVID-19 infections have caused fewer flights to come to Canada. Not enough planes means a shortage of fresh bamboo deliveries. And that leads to hungry pandas.

Bamboo is rare in Canada. The zoo shipped in bamboo from the United States when it could get none from China. Pandas Er Shun and Da Mao turned up their noses. Not tasty enough for them!

“They are picky,” says zoo president Dr. Clément Lanthier. “There’s a reason why they are endangered. They need their bamboo. That’s all they do. They eat bamboo and they sleep.”

 Indeed, each adult panda eats about 50 pounds of bamboo daily. And the food has to arrive fast. Bamboo lasts only four or five days at the most, and some shipments came too late to be useful.

Er Shun and Da Mao have lived in Canada for a long time. They were supposed to stay there until 2023. But when the bears couldn’t get enough bamboo, Dr. Lanthier decided it was best for the animals to return to China. Their main food source is abundant there.

Sending them back to China? Mr. Lanthier says the news came as a bit of a shock to the Chinese government. In other countries where pandas are exhibited—such as France, Spain, and parts of Asia—bamboo can be grown locally. But that’s impossible in chilly Canada.

Pandas make popular zoo attractions. Waving goodbye to these will cost the zoo money. But the decision wasn’t about business. It was about keeping the pandas healthy and happy.