Pandas make public debut at Toronto Zoo


Giant Panda

TORONTO - At first, all you could see was a pair of small black ears, barely visible behind a pile of rocks.

A growing crowd craned their necks and jockeyed for a better position to get a look.

Then, Da Mao decided to give the crowd a thrill. The male giant panda climbed up over the rocks in his enclosure at the Toronto Zoo and hunkered down in front of a pile of bamboo. Cue the flashbulbs, oohs and aahs, and then a round of cheers.</p>

“It was worth the wait, I’ve never seen a panda in real life before” said Shenglan Si, just moments after getting her first look Da Mao. “When he came out, we had to pounce, the crowd is so big.”

Over 15,000 people were expected to visit the Toronto Zoo Saturday, as Da Mao, and his female companion, Er Shun, made their debut for the general public. Waits to see the pandas were estimated at 45 minutes, but Si and her friend, Arun Moorthy, figured they waited 30 minutes before they were in front of Da Mao, snapping a few shots of the big guy shredding bamboo with ease.

“I was worried he was going to look bored,” Moorthy said. “But I think he’s enjoying sun-tanning.”

Seven-year-old Alexander Krajinovic made the trip from Hamilton with his family to visit the panda exhibit. He said he was excited to see the new arrivals at the zoo, but was surprised by their sleeping habits.

“The girl was sleeping and the boy was sleeping,” he said.

Toronto Zoo spokesman Katie Gray said it’s true, you never know what the pandas will be doing when you swing by to see them.

“They will always be doing different things,” Gray said. “Sometimes they’re sleeping, sometimes they’re gnawing on their bamboo. When you get a (zoo) membership it’s the best way to get the most out of the exhibit and come back and see them a few times. That’s our pitch.”

The pandas are on loan from the Chinese government and the zoo is scheduled to play host to them until 2018. The pandas are also helping the zoo educate people about endangered species of all types, she said.

“There is a lot of work with endangered species going on here at home, but we find that the pandas help people connect to it in a different way,” Gray said.