Airline Keeps Calgary Zoo's Pandas Happy With Bamboo Deliveries

You're not leaving the table unless you finish all your bamboo.

Parents raising picky eaters, you’re not alone. Like you, Calgary zookeepers have their hands full making sure certain fussy bellies get all their nutrients. Except instead of adorable human beings who want french fries for every meal, these animal caretakers are dealing with four adorable pandas obsessed with consuming only the freshest bamboo.

The pandas, which staff admit are picky eaters, munch on about 1,200 kilograms of bamboo a week. The Calgary Zoo’s website states that pandas have a hard time digesting their food and can spend up to 16 hours eating.

But, the zoo was left scrambling when Chinese airline Hainan announced it was discontinuing direct flights from China to Calgary at the end of October. Luckily, WestJet stepped forward and is now flying fresh bamboo on its cargo planes twice weekly from Toronto to Calgary.

The zoo says Hainan still flies to Toronto and hands off the panda food to WestJet. The first shipment arrived on Oct. 26.

The Calgary Zoo says it began searching for a solution as soon as it heard about Hainan’s plans.

“WestJet heard about the bamboo challenges and ... the WestJet cargo team offer(ed) to fly the bamboo shipments from Toronto to Calgary twice weekly,” the zoo said in a news release.

Out of the four pandas, two of them are Canadian-born. Er Shun and Da Mao came to the Toronto zoo from China in 2013. Twins Jia YueYue and Jia PanPan were born two years later.

“Since our giant pandas don’t like wilted bamboo, this was fantastic news as WestJet cargo also provides cool storage that ensures the pandas have access to the freshest bamboo possible.”

Two adult pandas and their two cubs came to Calgary in March 2018 from the Toronto Zoo.

The four-year-old cubs Jia PanPan and Jia YueYue are to return to a breeding facility in China in the new year. Their parents, Da Mao and Er Shun, are to stay in Calgary until 2023.

Dealing with picky eaters

Giving into a picky eater’s demands might work when dealing with animals, but that’s not always the case for children; especially when fulfilling their cravings might mean they don’t get their recommended nutritional intake.

Your child is not a panda, but if they eat like one try diversifying their diet and making healthy food appeal to their taste buds.

Instead of copying Calgary zookeepers, you can get your kids to finish their dinner plates by making feeding time more fun. That might look like using different utensils, toothpicks, or emphasizing fun colours they might like.

Failing that, picky eaters might also be persuaded to eat what they love. As blogger Rachel from Following In My Shoes writes, “feeding the eyes” is a tactic that can get kids engaged. Panda bento anyone?

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2019.

With files from Al Donato

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