The Panda Passage exhibit at the Calgary Zoo officially opened to the public on Monday and the family of four pandas made their first public appearance since arriving in Calgary in March.

Da Mao and Er Shun and their offspring Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue came to Calgary from the Toronto Zoo on March 23rd and have been getting used to their new home over the last few weeks.

“They’ve been settling in now for over a month, getting to know their keepers, getting to get comfortable in their new home,” said Trish Exton-Parder, Media Relations, Calgary Zoo.

“We’re pretty proud of this exhibit,” said Colleen Baird, Zoo Curator. “There’s so much going on in the exhibits. We have water features, we have cold rocks, hot rocks, we have outdoor, indoor viewing and it’s quite large so there’s lots of places to move around and see them."

The panda’s visit is part of a ten-year agreement between the two zoos and the Chinese government.

The Calgary Zoo spent $100 million in upgrades across the facility to prepare for the pandas and the old elephant habitat was converted into Panda Passage

The adult bears will stay in Calgary for five years and the cubs will head back to China after about a year-and-a-half.

“Here we are finally opening our incredible exhibit with pandas, being able to show, being able to tell a conservation story and we just couldn’t be more excited,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Director, Conservation & Science. “We wanted to showcase the pandas in a way that they could show their behaviours and also be able to interpret the kind of habitat that they rely upon in the wild and in this way we want to be able to connect the public with their story.”

“Even I get transfixed on watching pandas eat. It’s pretty amazing how they tear apart bamboo or gather up leaves to eat and they will eat for about an hour and then they’ll sleep for about two hours and then they’ll get up, they move around, they find some food, they eat, sleep, roam around, eat, sleep, roam around,” said Baird.

The pandas are part of a breeding program and Calgary zoo officials hope to artificially inseminate Er Shun and have a couple of cubs born here during their stay.

The pandas will add an estimated $18 million to Calgary’s economy and zoo officials expect about a 25 percent increase in visitors.

“There’ll be some lineups, I’m sure. We’ve started our timed ticketing today too so people that want to pre-book a time and a day to come down and see the pandas and not worry about crowds can do that so we’re trying to make the visitor experience the best we possibly can knowing that the first little while we’re going to have some crowds,” said Exton-Parder.

“Will it have great economic impact? Yes, that’s what we politicians like to hear. We’re going to have tons of tourists coming. The Calgary Zoo is going to be crazy busy but deeper than that we’re making a real statement about who we are as Calgarians and who we are as Canadians and for that I am truly thrilled,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

A special ceremony was held at the zoo, at 10:00 a.m. on Monday and the gates to Panda Passage opened to the public at 12:30 p.m.

“I think it’s fantastic. What a beautiful environment they’ve created here at the zoo and for the pandas, it’s wonderful. There’s beautiful outside and inside enclosures. Such a wonderful habitat, I think families are absolutely going to love it,” said zoo guest, Ellen Percival.

For more information on Panda Passage, click HERE.