Calgary Zoo in Canada announced on Tuesday that a pair of loaned Chinese pandas would be returned ahead of schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fans could bid farewell to Da Mao and Er Shun by watching a livestream on the zoo's website, it said.
The pandemic has hit the transportation sector hard in the past two months. The sharp decline in international flights has posed a challenge to the transportation of fresh bamboo, and the quality of bamboo cannot be ensured, it said.
The park said it has made great efforts to overcome the problem, but there is still the risk of a second wave of the outbreak there, and getting fresh bamboo supplies continues to be a challenge.
Zoo President and CEO Clement Lanthier said the zoo had to make a very difficult decision because the safest place for pandas is where there is an ample supply of bamboo that they can get to easily.
In March 2013, Da Mao, then a 4-year-old male from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province, and Er Shun, a 5-year-old female from Chongqing Zoo, left China for Canada. They were scheduled to stay for 10 years under a conservation agreement between the two countries.
The pair spent five years at Toronto Zoo first and then were moved to Calgary Zoo for another five years.
Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu panda base, said the arrangement allowed both zoos to contribute to international efforts to increase the population of endangered pandas.
Er Shun was artificially inseminated and gave birth to a pair of cubs at Toronto Zoo in October 2015. The two cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, whose names mean Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy, are the first pair of cubs born in Canada. In March 2018, they moved to Calgary Zoo with their parents, bringing a record number of visitors.
In April 2019, Er Shun again underwent artificial insemination at Calgary Zoo, but she failed to conceive. In January, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue returned to the Chengdu panda base, as was in the agreement between China and Canada.
The announcement of the earlier-than-expected return of Da Mao and Er Shun was a surprise to many in China.
Wang Lun, an official at the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan, said it is surprising that the pandas would be sent back early because many other countries have tried hard to obtain pandas on loan.
"Two years ago, word spread that two pandas loaned from the Dujiangyan base to Malaysia would be returned in advance because of the high cost of keeping them. But it turned out not to be true," he said.
In May 2014, the two pandas from the Dujiangyan base were flown to Malaysia for a 10-year stay.