Dignitaries and politicians were among those who got a sneak preview today of the giant panda exhibit that will formally open at the Toronto Zoo this weekend.
The Toronto Zoo is hosting a pair of giant pandas for a five-year period, the first half of a decade they will spend in Canada.
Those very important pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, flew to Toronto on a special FedEx plane in March. They were greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, during a ceremony that also featured a high-school band playing on the tarmac.
The zoo has built a special exhibit that will house them during their stay in the city. The pandas have been getting adjusted to their new surroundings prior to going on exhibit to the public.
At a morning news conference, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spoke about the zoo’s good fortune in hosting the pandas.
"Very few cities and zoos have this opportunity," Ford said Thursday morning.
"We are pleased to have the privilege of providing a home for Er Shun and Da Mao and hope their stay at the Toronto Zoo is an enjoyable one."
Toronto Zoo CEO John Tracogna said the pandas' arrival in Canada was the result of many years of hard work by both governments here and in China.
"Today is a proud day for all Canadians," said Tracogna.
China's ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, was also present for the event on Thursday morning, as was York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan, the Conservative government House leader, and Michael Chan, Ontario’s minister of tourism, culture and sport.
The pandas won't go on public display until Saturday.
The zoo has said it expects the pandas will draw an estimated 300,000 visitors during their first year in Toronto.
After their time in Toronto, Er Shun and Da Mao will be heading to Calgary for the final half of their Canadian visit.
The Toronto Zoo has not hosted giant pandas in almost three decades, the last time being a months-long stay in 1985.
Harper announced that the pandas were coming to Canada while he was on a trip to China last year.
Originally, Er Shun was supposed to come to Canada with a different panda named Ji Li. But that changed when testing revealed that both were female. That's why Da Mao ended up coming to Canada instead.