Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on while his wife Laureen holds a panda at a zoo in Chongqing, southwest China, Feb. 11, 2012. (Xinhua/Li Jian)
China on Saturday agreed to loan two of the country's precious giant pandas to Canadian zoos for a 10-year research program.
The Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) Saturday signed the deal with two Canadian zoos in Chongqing, a municipality in southwest China.
The panda pair, both around five years old, will stay in the Toronto and Calgary zoos for five years each after they arrive in Canada early next year, according to the agreement.
The male panda, named "Er Shun," is from a zoo in Chongqing and the female - "Ji Li" lives in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, home of over 100 pandas in the neighboring Sichuan province.
Giant pandas are the world's most endangered species. About 300 of the animals have been bred in captivity and 1,596 others live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper witnessed Saturday's signing ceremony during his visit to Chongqing.
"They will be the first pair of pandas to visit Canada since the 1980s," said Harper.
In his second visit to China, Harper came to Beijing on Tuesday for a five-day trip as a guest of Premier Wen Jiabao. The Canadian prime minister met and held talks with top Chinese leaders and witnessed the signing of several bilateral agreements regarding cooperation in trade, technology, education, forestry, energy and agriculture.
Harper also visited China's southern economic hub of Guangdong province before heading to Chongqing.