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Giant pandas in Toronto help raise money for Chinese children

Updated: 2013-08-04 17:54

TORONTO - A pair of giant pandas from China find themselves back in the political spotlight as Canada and China celebrate their blossoming friendship in a special fundraising gala here on Saturday.

The gala, which marks the first time the Chinese Consulate in Toronto and the government of the Ontario province has co-hosted an event, was held to celebrate the arrival of Er Shun and Da Mao.

"The pandas arrived here in March this year and they had a big welcome at the airport. But as a Chinese Consulate, the pandas are from China, so the Chinese Consulate should do something," said Chinese Consul-General Fang Li.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Fang welcomed their 200 guests to the gala at the Toronto Zoo, the two giant pandas' home for the next five years.

During his speech, Fang noted that bilateal trade volume jumped up over 70 billion Canadian dollars last year, while Ontario's exports to China had increased by 233 percent since 2003.

Wynne said it was vital to keep building on that momentum, and the giant pandas would be leading the way toward generating a "mutualunderstanding of our cultures."

"Ontario and China's longstanding friendship is one that I very much want to enhance and increase. We don't want to be picky, we don't want to be 'picky eaters,'" said Wynne, referring to the eating habits of giant pandas. "We want to extend the relationship because it is in everyone's best interest."

Fang and Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Chan said the money raised at the gala would be going toward the Canadian Fund for International Understanding through Culture's Canada-China Book Program. Books will be donated to schools in China's western Sichuan province, home to Da Mao.

"This is for the people behind the panda, the people from Sichuan province in China," said Chan. "China also had many, many challenges, one of those challenge is the natural disaster. We all know that in 2008 the earthquake in Sichuan is just horrible."

Guests at the gala were treated to some special performances and also a live auction, where many were eager to place bids to help the cause, and support the pandas.

Er Shun and Da Mao were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the tarmac when they arrived on a special plane late March. Now settled into their new home, the pair have been a big draw for the Toronto Zoo, increasing their visitors by almost 10 percent.

They will be staying in Toronto for five years, before they head to the Calgary Zoo for the remainder of their 10-year loan.

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