More time for Le Le fans to say goodbye, with S’pore-born panda’s flight to China pushed to January
Visitors to River Wonders now have three extra weeks to bid farewell to Le Le, after the panda cub’s last public appearance was postponed from Nov 20 to Dec 13.
The next day, the Singapore-born bear will then begin his quarantine of more than four weeks before heading back to China on Jan 16, 2024, Mandai Wildlife Group said on Sunday.
The group manages and operates the Singapore Zoo, River Wonders, Night Safari and Bird Paradise, which are located at the Mandai Wildlife Reserve.
It was reported in September that Le Le would leave for China in the “second half of December”.
In response to queries from The Straits Times on why the departure date was pushed back, Mandai said that the group and the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) were “in the midst of working out the arrangements” for his return.
A farewell campaign is ongoing at River Wonders, where Le Le fans can send fan mail or take photos with his photo standees. It will culminate in a farewell party at the Pavilion Capital Giant Panda Forest exhibit on Dec 13, Mandai said.
“Upon his return to China, Le Le will officially join the country’s conservation programme to safeguard his species,” said Mandai. “In the meantime, his care team is helping him prepare for a smooth travel.”
Mandai added that Le Le has received two vaccinations and will undergo thorough health checks during the quarantine.
Mandai told ST that these were vaccinations against distemper and rabies.
Distemper is a viral disease typically seen in dogs but can spread among other animals like raccoons and large cats such as lions, while rabies is a viral disease that can be spread to humans via the bite of an infected animal.
Le Le will be transported to China on Singapore Airlines in a customised crate, which is currently being built. When it is completed, the animal care team will start conditioning him to his crate with food rewards.
This is to encourage him to enter the crate voluntarily and get used to being inside it, said Mandai.
“This consistent training will aid the keepers in the transfer of Le Le, making it as stress-free as possible on the day his flight departs,” it said.
In September, it was reported that the cub had shown increasing signs of independence such as eating, resting and playing on his own.
His mother, Jia Jia, has also started to show “avoidance behaviours” such as moving away when he approaches. In the last month, she has also displayed “initial signs of rejection” like chasing Le Le away, Mandai said on Sunday.
“This is the natural progression in the Giant Panda species, and Jia Jia will eventually reject two-year-old Le Le,” it said.
Under the terms of Chinese panda loan agreements, cubs born on foreign soil are generally returned to China when they turn two. China loans these animals to foreign countries as a goodwill gesture, an effort that has become popularly known as “panda diplomacy”.
Le Le was born to giant pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai at about 7.50am on Aug 14, 2021 – their firstborn since they arrived in Singapore in 2012 on loan from China. It took them seven attempts to conceive the cub.
Meanwhile, Jia Jia and Kai Kai’s stay in Singapore was extended in 2022 for five more years until 2027 under an agreement signed by CWCA and Mandai Wildlife Group.
Ms Lorraine Khoo, who has two young children, said her family last visited Le Le in July and plans to visit him again before he leaves for China.
Her four-year-old son has a special fondness for the panda cub as they share a similar name, said Ms Khoo, a stay-at-home mum.
“His Chinese name is Le Cong, so we have called him Le Le since he was a baby,” said Ms Khoo, 35.
“We are very happy that we have more time to visit him again before he goes back.”
- Additional reporting by Christie Chiu