Pandas may find traveling hard to bear

Updated: 2012-01-09 08:22

By Jiang Xueqing (China Daily)

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Stress of flying

Among all factors that would stress the pandas, long-distance travel is the most significant, said Li Mingxi, an expert at the Chengdu base.

In September 2007, Li and a colleague escorted pandas Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba to Madrid Zoo in Spain. They took off in Chengdu on a TNT cargo aircraft for a transfer in Shanghai.

Because they had already cleared customs in Chengdu, they could not leave the Shanghai airport. The Chinese experts put the caged pandas in a relatively quiet corner of the freight yard, but the loud noises of cargo loading and planes taking off and landing disturbed the animals.

Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba became nervous and restless, pacing their cages for half the night. Li and his colleague were prepared, with 200 kg of fresh bamboo shoots. The food comforted the pandas, and they fell asleep around 4 am. They took off for Madrid a few hours later.

Pandas may find traveling hard to bear
Visitors pose for photos in front of female giant panda Xian Nu, who is called Shin Shin in Japan, as she munches bamboo at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo. Her apppearance on April 1 with Bi Li, now called Ri Ri, was the first panda viewing in Japan in three years. The 5-year-old had arrived from China's Sichuan province in February. [Issei Kato/Reuters]

After more than 30 hours of travel, the pair finally arrived at the zoo. The passageways were too narrow, so a crane was used to lift them into their outdoor activity fields. From there, the pandas moved to the indoor enclosures.

Hua Zuiba remained nervous for several months. She clasped her limbs tightly even when she was eating, rather than spreading out her arms and legs comfortably.

"Transportation - especially transfer - has a huge impact on pandas," Li said. "If we take a direct flight, it will be much less stressful. The more twists and turns they experience, the louder noises they suffer, the bigger the impact.

"In an ideal world, pandas should be closed from the public upon their arrival in another country and not receive any form of visit, reception or interview. After several days of rest, they will adapt to the new environment very quickly," he said.

Custom containers

The cages for panda transportation are specially designed and, usually, are made by panda experts. In the case of Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba, the pair bound for Madrid, the Chinese experts sealed three sides of the cage with steel plates to prevent people from having contact with the animals and provided many holes on the side plates for ventilation.

For Wang Wang and Funi's trip to Australia, the cage made in China was 1.66 meters long, 1.2 meters high and 1 meter wide. Its main frame was steel, while its baseboard was plastic for warmth. The light inside the cage was kept low to quiet the pandas.

People could not touch the pandas from the outside, nor could the pandas reach out to injure people. Animal keepers and veterinarians could watch the animals at any time from an observation hole that was convenient to open and close. A tray was installed at the bottom of the cage to collect urine, which was soaked up by absorbent material.

Sometimes, containers provided by well-known shipping companies are used for panda transportation.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang traveled in two custom-built containers provided by FedEx Express, which flew the pandas nonstop from Chengdu to Edinburgh on a chartered Boeing 777F, a flight called the FedEx Panda Express. Such containers will also be used to send the pandas to France, Li said.

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