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The FedEx Panda Express – China to Canada

March 25, 2013

Da Mao arrives in Toronto

FedEx Panda Express plane lands in Toronto

Da Mao arrives in Toronto

Canadian Prime Minister Harper signed for delivery of pandas

FedEx Panda Express plane draws a crowd in Toronto

Canadian Prime Minister Harper signs for delivery of pandas

On March 25, 2013 the Toronto Zoo welcomes two giant pandas as part of a new giant panda conservation initiative that they entered into with China in February 2012.  This will be the first time since 1985 that pandas have visited the Toronto Zoo and will strengthen the long-term conservation partnership agreement between China and Canada. 

Er Shun (female) and Da Mao (male) will arrive on March 25 at the FedEx Express tarmac at Toronto Pearson International Airport before being carefully transported to their quarantine area at the Zoo.  These two pandas were selected to come to Canada as they are an excellent genetic match for breeding.  They will spend five years in the Toronto Zoo before residing in the Calgary Zoo for an additional five years.


Jump to section on:
Pandas Fly First Class
The Importance of the Toronto Zoo Panda Breeding Program
All About Bamboo
Getting Ready for Travel!
Creating the FedEx Panda Express (video)
The Story of Panda Diplomacy
Why is Panda Conservation Important? (video)
External Coverage:
Fast Company: Two Pandas Successfully Shipped Across the Globe: Here’s How FedEx Panda Express is Shipping Pandas from China to Canada

Da Mao being begins his journey from China to Canada – March 24, 2013
Da Mao loading in China

FedEx Panda Express Toronto plane

Pandas Fly First Class – March 22, 2013 [back to top]

The Panda Express will leave Chengdu, China and travel 12,875 kilometers across the Pacific before landing in Toronto, Canada on March 25, 2013!  The pandas will be carefully off-loaded and brought to the Toronto Zoo where they will stay for the next five years. 

First the pandas have to get to the airport on time for their departure.  Da Mao lives in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding so his commute to the Chengdu airport will be relatively short.  Er Shun on the other hand will be travelling for about four hours before she reaches the tarmac.  Once they’re on-board the total flight time will be over 15 hours.

panda plane provisionsThe FedEx® flight crew that will be on board the Panda Express was specifically chosen because of their experience with transporting large animals and our Load Master will travel with the pandas to ensure the pandas safely get both on and off the plane.  For the Chengdu-Toronto move, we’re privileged to have a Load Master with five panda shipments under his belt, including the first ever FedEx panda flight back in 2000.

Our goal is to have the pandas’ travel be as comfortable as possible.  The on-board vet and two attendants will have constant access to the pandas at all times during the flight, with a small exception of course, during take-off and landing where the attendants are required to be safely seated with seatbelts on. 

Before a typical flight, most of us make a list and pack a few items in our carry on so we’re comfortable while on board.  Pandas are no different – the vet and attendants will need to make sure they have the following on board for each panda:

  • 100 kgs of bamboo
  • 150 kgs bamboo shoots
  • 50 kg of apples
  • 15 kgs of fresh water

In-flight catering and a comfortable cabin temperature for the pandas should make for an enjoyable journey half way across the world!


The Importance of the Toronto Zoo Panda Breeding Program – March 20, 2013 [back to top]

male pandaPart of the reason the world panda population is low (only approximately 2,000 left) is because it is quite difficult for them to reproduce.  Their large size causes female pandas to only have one reproductive cycle each year, and they usually only produce offspring every second year because their cubs depend on them until they are 18 months of age.  The total pregnancy period is unknown as sometimes the fertilized panda egg doesn’t immediately implant on the uterine wall.  Generally, however, once implanted the fetus takes one to one and a half months to develop.

Despite the large size of mature pandas, their cubs weigh between just .08 and .2 kilograms at birth (about the size of a stick of butter).  This makes them 900 times smaller than their mothers.  At six to eight weeks the cubs will open their eyes, at three months they will become mobile and they will continue to feed from their mothers for eight to nine months.  Signature black and white colouring starts to appear after one month and at age four to eight they will begin breeding and will continue to breed until they reach age 20.

Dr. Gaby Mastromonaco, Curator – Reproductive Programs & Research, Toronto Zoo, gave us some inside information on the panda breeding program at the Toronto Zoo facility:

“Giant panda breeding season has begun. At this time, reproductive labs in many zoos are focusing on their panda breeding pairs. Male pandas are being assessed for sperm quality and the samples are being frozen for potential use later on. Female pandas’ urine samples are being evaluated for estrogen levels to detect the short window of opportunity when they are in heat and receptive to the male. This information is necessary to time a breeding introduction or an artificial insemination attempt. This year, our young pair will be travelling and undergoing quarantine together. But next year, we’ll be ready to observe them and monitor their reproductive activity to assist them with their breeding efforts.

 Although natural breeding is the focus of all breeding programs, giant panda successes in captivity have been minimal. After many years of research, artificial insemination in giant pandas is as effective as natural breeding with pregnancy rates close to 60%. Living offspring have been produced with fresh, cooled and frozen-thawed sperm. This technique will be implemented to enhance breeding outcomes while our pair is with us in Toronto.”

Er Shun and Da Mao have been specially matched as a breeding pair and the Toronto Zoo and FedEx® have our fingers crossed that they will be successful in contributing to the panda population during their stay here in Canada!


All About Bamboo – March 18, 2013 [back to top]

One of the most important things the Toronto Zoo needed to consider for the two giant pandas that will arrive on March 25th was how to maintain their finicky diet.  The Zoo will need to supply fresh bamboo for 80-90% of the panda’s diet and leaf eater biscuits, dog chow, apples and vitamins to make up the rest. 

Giant pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo, but they’re not very efficient at digesting plant materials.  Their digestive system is more similar to a carnivore’s, with large muscular walls, and because of the pandas’ lazy lifestyle, not much protein is absorbed and little energy is provided from the bamboo diet. In order to get enough nutrients pandas have to eat, on average, 14-20 kilograms of bamboo every day, which takes them approximately 10-16 hours to eat!  As a result they often defecate up to 40 times each day.

Eating this much bamboo is no simple task!  Bamboo stalks are tough to chew through, but pandas have large, flat molars that allow them to crush and grind bamboo stalks and a thick mucus layer in their stomach to avoid getting splinters from the woody diet.  They also have an enlarged wrist bone that acts like an opposable digit similar to that of a human thumb, and helps them get a good grip on the stalks. 

So where is all of this bamboo going to come from?  FedEx will be supplying continued support to Er Shun and Da Mao during their stay at the Toronto Zoo by transporting bamboo up from Memphis three times each week.  Pandas are picky eaters so FedEx will need to supply 600-900 kilograms of bamboo every week to sustain their diet.  The bamboo will be grown and harvested at the Memphis Zoo, which happens to be close to the main FedEx Hub, and will be carefully packaged in bundles, delivered and placed in cold storage once it arrives at the Toronto Zoo.


Getting Ready for Travel! – March 15, 2013 [back to top]

Written by Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo

Panda enclosureThe giant pandas are coming and we are so excited to work with FedEx Express to bring them to the Toronto Zoo. FedEx has transported several pandas around the world in the past and they are now helping us bring Er Shun and Da Mao to Canada. There is so much to do before receiving these amazing creatures and one of the most important things is the safety and welfare of the animals. Several steps are taken including getting the animals use to their shipping enclosures so they feel comfy for the journey.

FedEx has crafted and built panda shipping enclosures specifically for giant pandas to ensure safe and easy handling. The enclosures are 198 cm L x 142 cm W x 137 cm H and weigh approximately 360 kg with removable side panels for easy access to the pandas for the on-board attendants. 

Er Shun and Da Mao will have their own enclosures for the transport so no sharing on this trip! Each enclosure is already on its way to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (for Da Mao) and Chongqing Zoological Gardens, China (for Er Shun). The enclosures will be placed into Er Shun and Da Mao’s habitats so that they can see, smell, enter and overall get use to them well before the big departure date.   

Partnering with FedEx on this very special shipment gives us peace of mind and we can’t wait for Er Shun and Da Mao to arrive and make their debut at the Toronto Zoo.


Creating the FedEx Panda Express – March 14, 2013 [back to top]

The FedEx® fleet includes 64 MD-11F aircraft and this month we have turned one of these planes into our very own Panda Express!  A huge panda decal was applied to the front end of this aircraft and this spring it will carry the pandas from Chengdu, China to Toronto, Canada.

The decal is almost 5.5 metres high and over 5.7 metres long and sits beside decals from the Toronto Zoo.  Check out the video of the decaling process of one of our previous Panda Express planes, which takes four days to complete between washing and drying the aircraft, applying the decals and the decal curing process.


The story of “Panda Diplomacy” – March 9, 2013 [back to top]

This spring the Toronto Zoo will be welcoming two giant pandas from Chengdu, China – and FedEx will be flying them into the country and delivering them directly to the Zoo.  It will mark an important day in our history here at FedEx, as it will be our first time being part of a Canadian state visit – considered one of the highest forms of diplomatic relations between two nations. 

The opportunity to be a part of this monumental event all began in 2003 when the Chongqing Zoo and the Toronto Zoo signed an animal trading agreement with the vision of launching a giant panda conservation program here at the Toronto Zoo.  It took 12 years and the dedication of Zoo staff, board members and the Giant Panda Task Force, but in 2011 everything was finalized and two years later we are patiently awaiting the arrival of Er Shun and Da Mau.

Not only will the panda move make FedEx history, but it will also contribute to the history of “Panda Diplomacy”, or the use of pandas as diplomatic gifts, between the West and China.  These relationships stem back to the 1970’s and have made pandas a global symbol of diplomacy and lessened barriers to free trade – something that FedEx actively advocates – and something that is vital to Canada’s economic success.

Join us in welcoming the pandas to Toronto, Canada this spring where they’ll stay for the next five years before moving to the Calgary Zoo for an additional five years!


Why is Panda Conservation Important? – March 6, 2013 [back to top]

Pandas have been a strong candidate for wildlife conservation over the years, and the involvement of the Toronto Zoo in breeding programs and conservation efforts of these magnificent animals piqued FedEx’s interest.  We are looking forward to contributing to the panda population by making the technology advancements at the Toronto Zoo accessible to Er Shun and Da Mao.

Conservation of pandas has become increasingly important over the years.  When the giant panda was first discovered in China many were killed by Western museum collectors and hunters.  Then, in 1936 the first panda travelled across the world to the West because of the high interest in these animals.  Over the next 15 years 16 pandas were transported to Western Zoos, but none of them survived past 10 years because of the lack of expertise around their care and lack of access to dietary requirements, such as bamboo.

In 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was formed exporting pandas came to a halt.  It wasn’t until 1972 when diplomatic relations softened between the two nations that the shipment of pandas started up again.

Giant pandas are still listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species and there are just over 2,000 left in the wild.  They have become a worldwide symbol of wildlife conservation, and have been made famous by their inclusion on the WWF logo.

The reason for the endangerment of giant pandas is mainly habitat destruction from human population increases and infrastructure expansion.  Today only six isolated mountain regions exist where pandas reside in central China.  With their natural habitat spread thin they face the risk of starvation and also have greater challenges when trying to mate.  Conservation programs have expanded as a result, and there are now 63 giant panda reserves in China.  These reserves are supported by global conservation efforts to preserve the natural habitats and promote breeding amongst pandas, of which the Toronto Zoo will now be a significant contributor.

We are excited to have these two pandas visit Toronto for the next five years.  More about pandas:

  • At birth they weigh only .113 kilograms (four ounces) which makes moms 900 times larger than their newborn cubs. 
  • It takes four years to be able to determine whether the panda is a male or female.
  • Their diet mainly consists of bamboo and they have opposable digits to help hold the bamboo while their strong teeth chew through the tough stalks.
  •  They spend most of their time sitting and eating, but they don’t hibernate like other bears because their food source is available year-round. 
  • They can swim and climb trees
  • They make a bleating sound similar to a goat or lamb.
  • The Chinese call them “Big Bear Cat” because their eyes have vertical slits, similar to a cat’s
  • As per ancient Chinese tradition cubs are not named until 100 days after birth.


The FedEx Newsroom has more information about the Toronto panda transportation.

*FedEx has a unique history of transporting pandas and other rare creatures around the world. Photos, video, and stories from recent panda transportations to Edinburgh, Scotland and Paris, France.



    Jenny says:

    Thank you for all the work I’m sure that will go into this move! Toronto is very excited to see them.

    Nessie says:

    FedEx ROCKS! Thank you so much for once again doing this. And handling the food delivery is outstanding!

    Sanjib Bharatia says:

    FedEx Rocks! Proud to work here and excited about to see the Pandas at Toronto Zoo.

    Romel Bulanhagui says:

    These are the kinds of shipments that my group deal a lot in Fedex EWR. I am glad to be a part of the Animal Shipping dept. Cheers to all involve, I know it is quite a task to deal with such a precious cargo. One of those things that makes you PROUD to work for FEDEX.

    Ken Cary says:

    As a FedEx employee and a volunteer for a local animal rescue organization here in the Ozarks I think this is awesome. The company should commission some Panda Express shirts to sell on the employee website and store shelves. I am sure they would be a big seller.

    Kristy says:

    Wish I could go on this flight. What an awesome experience this would be since I’m such a critter lover.

    Pauline says:

    This is a very exciting time in history and to be working for one of the most humane companies in the world. Wishing a Happy and safe voyage for Er Shun and Da Mao. We can’t wait to welcome you here in Toronto! <3

    Shawn Ju says:

    The Chinese characters for these 2 pandas are 二順(Er Shun) 大毛(Da Mao).

    JoAnn says:

    Kudos to you FedEx for your commitment to global community initiatives involving animals and conservation of endangered species! You’re a corporate leader.

    Todd says:

    Thank you for your commitment to the conservation of these amazing animals. When I frequent the Memphis Zoo, visiting the pandas is always the highlight of the excursion.

    MayLyn says:

    I sure enjoyed reading more about Panda Bears and knowing that FedEx is going to transport them again to Canada is such a great acomplishment! Way to go FedEx!

    MayLyn says:

    I enjoyed reading more about Panda Bears and knowing that FedEx will transport them from China to Canada is another great acomplishment! Way to go FedEx! I’m so proud to volunteer for such a wonderful company!

    Yvonne says:

    I think this is absolutely superb GO FEDEX!!!!!! Proud to be part of the Fed Ex team!!!!!

    Jennifer Giel says:

    Saw the plane land from my apartment balcony. What a sight!!! Welcome , Er Shun and Da Mao. Sorry the weather wasn’t warmer, but at least the sun was shining!

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