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culture

Meet the Toronto Zoo’s New Pandas

Er Shun and Da Mao, the Toronto Zoo's new pandas, are ready to meet the public.

20130517 Panda-001

Over 5,000 Toronto Zoo members, as well as members of the press, got a special sneak peak at giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao earlier today. The pair is expected to be at the zoo, on loan from the Chinese government, for the next five years.

Zoo director of public relations Katie Gray said that the day was meant as a warmup for the pandas’ official unveiling on Saturday.

“Today is a learning opportunity,” she said. “We’re trying to manage the crowds and see how fast people move through the exhibit, but overall everyone’s having an amazing experience and the pandas are being amazing.”

The pandas, for what it’s worth, were remarkably unfazed by both the crowd—which included both children and adults squealing with delight—and the dozens of cameras being pointed at them. Four year-old male Da Mao lounged in the sun, eating bamboo, sitting in a remarkably human-like posture and staring back at the crowd, while five year-old female Er Shun avoided the heat and lay sprawled out in the indoor part of her enclosure. This seemed to be more than enough for the onlookers. That’s the great thing about pandas. They don’t have to do much to impress you. They’ll spend 16 hours a day eating, reject roughly 85 per cent of the bamboo you offer them, poop roughly 40 times, then go to sleep for eight hours, and you’ll love them for it.

The exhibit also features an information centre, where zoo-goers can read about pandas and their habitat, watch panda videos, and play panda-related touchscreen games. The space was designed by architecture firm Reich and Petch. Project coordinator Carolyn Smith said that the aim was to create something that was distinctly Chinese, but without resorting to cliched imagery.

“We wanted to create something that was fresh and informative and kid-friendly and modern,” said Smith. “There have been so many other panda exhibits that have done the old school, hokey kind of Chinese pagodas, and almost stereotyping China. China is very modern and forward thinking, and they’re making a lot of great efforts to save the pandas, and we wanted to tell that story.”

Overall, Gray said she was pleased with the day, both logistically and in terms of crowd response.

“I think the best thing I’ve heard is people referring to them as rock stars,” she said. “That’s sort of the hype around them…and they’re definitely acting the part. They’re just laid back and chilling out and having a great time.”

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