Tokyo’s Cute Pandas Ri Ri and Shin Shin bring Global Crowds


The public can’t seem to get enough of the cuteness of a giant panda. Last year, 4.4 million visitors flocked to the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo to see  Ri Ri and Shin Shin, a male and female giant panda.

For foreign zoos, hosting a pair of pandas can cost $500,000. For wealthier countries, such as Japan, it can cost around $1 million. The animals remain the “property” of China, even when hosted in foreign countries, so the payments go toward the Chinese government. This also means that if something goes wrong, the foreign zoo has a lot of explaining, and a lot of paying, to do.

This happened at Prince Zoo in Kobe City in 2010, when a 14-year old male panda, Xing Xing, died during the keepers’ attempt to collect sperm to use in artificial insemination. Xing Xing vomited gastric fluid, breathing the acidic mixture into its lungs, which caused the panda to suffocate. Kobe City had to pay $500,000 to China for the unfortunate incident.

Even without unexpected deaths, giant pandas can still be extremely challenging to care for. For example, females spend less than 1 percent of the year engaging in sexual activity. If that one to three day window of time in the spring is missed, it will be an entire year before they can try again.

Anesthetizing animals to collect sperm is a very risky procedure, so researchers and zookeepers try very hard to get giant pandas to breed in captivity. The most successful captive breeding is done at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province, hardly anyone outside of China has managed to breed giant pandas. In 2010, the research base announced that it had met its goal of breeding 300 pandas.

Breeding is only one part of the process– pandas must also be returned to the wild. Preserving their diminishing habitat is a hot topic. We remain hopeful as the Chengdu center is conducting a three-year panda study. Let’s hope they send out the best looking pandas so they are sure to find each other attractive.

The Fujimini Adventure Series is introducing Rainbow Panda in an upcoming book. This panda attracts others with his multicolored coat and usually has some fireworks to add spark to any activity! The new title “Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco” will be available this summer; check out our other five titles!

Article written by Eileen Wacker.