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Invitation-only panda exhibit opens at Toronto Zoo

A pair of giant pandas on loan from China made their debut at the Toronto Zoo for some invitation-only visitors Thursday, before they go on public display Saturday.

“I’d like to welcome you as we celebrate this historic official opening of the giant panda experience and panda interpretive centre,”  zoo CEO John Tracogna said at the zoo.

The preview, which was for zoo members and the media, began with the singing of two national anthems. Children from Davisville Junior Public School sang the Canadian anthem and Yip’s Children’s Choir sang the Chinese anthem.

The pandas arrived in Canada in March on a special flight from China.

Five-year-old Er Shun and her prospective mate, four-year-old Da Mao, will spend five years at the Toronto Zoo.

They will then live five years at the Calgary Zoo, which has announced a major redesign to house the new visitors.

The Toronto and Calgary Zoos played host to pandas in 1985 and 1988, respectively, while another couple took up a brief residence at the Winnipeg Zoo in 1989.

China’s loan of the pandas to Canada sends an important diplomatic message that ties between the two countries are stable and continue to grow stronger.