CALGARY – The Calgary Zoo is hosting a farewell party this weekend for the two giant panda cubs before they head back to China later this fall.

Twins Jia PanPan, a male, and Jia YueYue, a female, both came to Calgary in March 2018 and are now almost four years old. 

As part an agreement, all pandas born outside of Canada must return to China at that age to participate in a breeding program at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The cubs were born at the Toronto Zoo in October 2015.

The Calgary Zoo says the twins will board a plane for Chengdu sometime after October 6.  Once they arrive, they will be separated because both animals are considered to be sexually mature. 

The farewell party, from Oct. 4-6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is filled with games, face painting and activities for both children and adults. 

Meanwhile, the twins’ mother, Er Shun, and adult male panda, Dao Mao, will stay in Calgary at the Panda Passage exhibit until at least 2023. 

Er Shun was artificially inseminated in early April through a joint effort between the Calgary Zoo and the Chengdu Research Base and zoo staff continue to monitor for indication of pregnancy.

"With giant pandas you just don’t know until about two weeks prior because they are a bear and they have what’s called a delayed plantation," said Judy Lang, senior manager of customer experience at the Calgary Zoo. "It’s really hard to detect pregnancy but our animal care teams have been working on it and checking on it and taking good care of her."

Dianna Adams came with her two daughters to say goodbye to the two pandas.

"I've probably seen them about 20 times since they've been here. We come here fairly frequently. We love to pop in and visit them. It's hard to find them sometimes but we poke around and do our little hunts to see them and it's always fun."

Nikolas Habiak says his son Archer is too young to understand this is the last time he’ll see the two, but pandas are his favourite.

"It's sad to see them go but who knows maybe they'll be back one day," he said.

The Calgary Zoo estimated a 25 per cent increase in visitors (1.5 million people) and an economic boost of $18 million within the first year of the pandas arriving. 

There are tentative plans to bring in orangutans after the pandas vacate the zoo in 2023.