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Last chance to see pandas in Scotland before they head home to China

todayNovember 30, 2023 2

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Last chance to see pandas in Scotland before they head home to China

The curtain is coming down on Scotland’s panda show.

For more than a decade the large furry animals have been the star attraction of Edinburgh Zoo, but time is up for the most famous duo in town.

Yang Guang, a male giant panda, and female Tian Tian first arrived in December 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years due to the COVID pandemic.

Giant panda Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo, as visitors have one final opportunity to say goodbye before zoo keepers get him ready to make his way back to China. Yang Guang and Tian Tian have lived at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Picture date: Thursday November 30, 2023.

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Yang Guang

File photo dated 22/09/2014 of Edinburgh Zoo's giant panda Tian Tian. Visitors have one final opportunity to say goodbye to Britain's only giant pandas before zoo keepers get them ready to make their way back to China. Yang Guang and Tian Tian have lived at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Issue date: Thursday November 30, 2023.

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Tian Tian

Access to the panda enclosure will be restricted from 3.30pm on Thursday as preparations to return the animals get under way.

Yang Guang, whose name means Sunshine in Mandarin, and Tian Tian (Sweetie) will then be kept out of public sight before they make the long journey home in December.

The giant pandas, who were both born in August 2003, captivated the hearts of many but they have not been cheap.

They came with a whole lot of hope and a hefty price tag of $1m (£800,000) every year.

When the pair first touched down in Scotland they arrived in the capital to a huge fanfare as fans lined the streets outside the popular visitor attraction.

Giant panda Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo, as visitors have one final opportunity to say goodbye before zoo keepers get him ready to make his way back to China. Yang Guang and Tian Tian have lived at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Picture date: Thursday November 30, 2023.

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Yang Guang on Thursday

The animals were used as a gag by the then first minister Alex Salmond, who boasted that Scotland was home to more pandas than Conservative MPs.

The aim was for them to produce the pitter-patter of tiny paws, but it is no secret the headline act failed to breed panda cubs despite mammoth efforts by zoo experts.

Tian Tian the female panda at Edinburgh Zoo sleeps, as a specially commissioned tartan design was launched at the zoo to mark the arrival of pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, which were delivered to Edinburgh Zoo on a specially chartered flight from China on December 4 last year.

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Tian Tian

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Pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrive under police escort at their new home at Edinburgh Zoo, as the two giant pandas - the first to live in the UK for almost 20 years - have arrived in Scotland.

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Fans lined the streets of Edinburgh when the pandas arrived in 2011

There were years of relentless headlines reporting their every move.

At one point during a prolonged and controversial programme of artificial insemination, passionate and dedicated staff apparently had CCTV monitors installed in their own homes to watch every twist and turn.

The dream of having a cub born for the first time on British soil gradually faded and so did the panda’s stardom.

Despite a huge boost to visitor numbers over the decade, the animals slid from the consciousness of the public in recent years.

Yang Guang in his enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo as their giant pandas are one step closer to the anticipated 36 hour annual breeding window, with experts confirming a crucial hormone crossover in female panda Tian Tian has now taken place and that she should come into oestrus within the next seven to 14 days.

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Yang Guang in his enclosure

Tensions with animal rights campaigners are not new.

But, the group One Kind believes attitudes have evolved during the pandas’ Scottish stint. It claims the days of using the “exploitation of animals as entertainment” are over.

Clearly Edinburgh Zoo would refute any negative accusations.

The pandas were part of a big PR machine.

Some initially feared they could have diverted political and public attention away from China’s human rights record. Those claims never really materialised.

Nevertheless, the pandas and their diplomatic baggage will depart Scotland in the coming days. They’ll leave in the same way they arrived – on a private jet.

They’ll no doubt tuck into an inflight meal of bamboo as they step away from the UK limelight and head home for a quiet life away from the daily scores of gawking visitors.

Written by: Newsroom

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