A Chinese panda breeding centre has given coronavirus tests to all of its bears amid fears that the fluffy animals could also contract COVID-19.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which has 208 pandas, arranged the mass testing after some zoo animals in the United States had caught the bug, according to a spokesperson.
All of the pandas turned out to be healthy, Zhang Zhihe, the secretary of the base, told the Chinese state broadcaster.
Mr Zhang said he and his colleagues were ‘very nervous’ after hearing that several tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York had tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr Zhang told China Central Television Station yesterday: ‘Pandas suffer from many illnesses that can be caught by both humans and animals.
‘So afterwards, we immediately arranged samples to be taken.’
He said all pandas in the Chengdu base had undergone nucleic acid tests, which can detect the presence of the novel coronavirus in a person or animal’s body.
‘All [of the results] were negative. They did not contract the novel coronavirus,’ Mr Zhang added.
At least four tigers and four lions at the Bronx Zoo were diagnosed with the coronavirus last month.
Mr Zhang also revealed that the base had been using pandas as ‘therapeutic companions’ to help patients recover from COVID-19.
Keepers are said to have made exclusive films of pandas and carried out live-streaming sessions of the black-and-white bears to keep the sufferers happy.
One girl in Wuhan, who was struck down with the disease, received a tailor-made panda documentary from the base as her birthday present after expressing her wish to see pandas upon recovery, Mr Zhang noted.
‘We know that pandas have therapeutic powers. We hope their cute looks can help relieve [patients’] anxiety,’ he concluded.
The news came after a Canadian zoo said it would return two giant pandas on loan from China due to a lack of fresh bamboo caused by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Canada’s Calgary Zoo decided to cut short the pandas’ lease by three years after having difficulties getting enough bamboo to feed them.
The pair, named ‘Er Shun’ and ‘Da Mao’ arrived in Calgary in 2018 after spending five years at the Toronto Zoo and were to remain in the Alberta city until 2023.
The zoo’s president, Clement Lanthier, said this week the facility had spent months trying to overcome transport barriers in acquiring fresh bamboo and decided it was best for the animals to be in China, where their main food source is abundant.
‘It’s about the animals.
‘At the end of the day, we cannot pretend that we care for animals if we don’t take those tough decisions,’ Mr Lanthier said.
‘We believe the best and safest place for Er Shun and Da Mao to be during these challenging and unprecedented times is where bamboo is abundant and easy to access.’