After a 20-year absence of giant pandas in Canada, the Toronto Zoo is getting ready to introduce Er Shun and Da Mao -- two adorable creatures on loan from China -- on May 18.

As anticipation for the exhibit builds, here are some facts to know about the creatures before zoo visitors get the chance to see them in action.

An endangered species:

As China’s population continues to surge, the giant pandas’ habitat is taken over by development. This also leads to shortages of bamboo -- and since a panda’s diet is 99 per cent bamboo, shortages of this food source could leave the animals with nothing to eat. Today, there is an estimated 1,600 giant pandas living in the wild, largely in China’s Yangtze River Basin. A further 300 live in captivity.

Naming of the pandas:

  • Following ancient Chinese tradition, giant panda cubs are not to be named until they have been alive for 100 days.
  • Five-year-old Er Shun is the female panda; her name means ‘double smoothness.’
  • Four-year-old Da Mao is the male panda; his name means ‘big fur.’
  • The name for a group of giant pandas is a sleuth or slot.

The animal kingdom’s most-fussy eaters:

  • At the Toronto Zoo, the giant pandas will be fed bamboo, Leaf Eater-brand biscuits, dog chow, apples and vitamins. They will be offered 93 to 141 pounds of bamboo daily.
  • The animals must spend 10 to 16 hours a day eating.
  • Giant pandas can defecate up to 40 times a day given their large diet.
  • The digestive system of a giant panda is more similar to that of a carnivore than an herbivore.

“Big bear cat”:

  • The Chinese call giant pandas “big bear cats.” They are given this nickname because their eyes are vertical slits, like a cat’s, rather than round pupils, like a bear’s.
  • Under a giant panda’s white fur, its skin is black and under the black fur, its skin is pink.
  • Giant pandas are born pink, hairless and blind.
  • The typical black-and-white colour pattern develops after about a month and they open their eyes when they are six to eight weeks old.


  • The animals are usually ready to breed between four and eight years of age and could remain reproductive until 20 years old.
  • The female panda may give birth to one or two giant panda cubs. Triplets are extremely rare.
  • Female pandas only produce an offspring every other year because the dependence of the cub on their mother prohibits breeding the following spring.
  • Newborns are 1/900th the size of their mother, making it one of the smallest newborn creatures relative to its mother’s size.

The cuddly creatures will spend a total of 10 years in Canada: five years at the Toronto Zoo and five at the Calgary Zoo.