Edinburgh Airport will receive a special delivery delivery on Sunday – two pandas bound for Edinburgh Zoo. The pandas will fly on their own plane courtesy of Federal Express. Edinburgh Zoo is expecting a 30% increase in visitors due to their arrival.
The breeding pair, Tian Tian – meaning “sweetie” – and Yang Guang – “sunshine” – will travel from Chengdu Airport in China in special containers .
“We have been looking forward to this moment for five years now, since we first embarked on this epic journey to bring the giant pandas to Scotland,” said Hugh Roberts, chief executive of Edinburgh Zoo.
“The arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang is an historic occasion for the zoo, for Scotland, and for the UK as a whole. Our dedicated team at the zoo has worked tirelessly to create a world-class enclosure to house our newest additions, which will offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view these extraordinary animals.”
The pandas will be on loan to the zoo for about ten years – during which time it is hoped that the animals, which are notoriously reticent breeders, will produce cubs. These would be the first baby pandas to be born in Scotland. Both pandas have successfully parented before, with Tian Tian giving birth to twins two years ago.
When the pandas arrive on the runway in Scotland, they will be greeted by officials from Edinburgh Zoo, the Scottish Government and officials from the panda project partnership, which includes the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA).
First Minister Alex Salmond will be on a trade mission in China at the time of the pandas’ arrival.
He said: “I will be in China myself on the day they arrive, signing a cultural exchange agreement with the Chinese, and I am sure all Scotland will be delighted to welcome Tian Tian and Yang Guang with the warmest of Scottish receptions awaiting them.
“Having the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo is a considerable honour and will be a huge draw for visitors. It will give a welcome boost to the economy and to tourism.”
The pandas will have a two-week “settling-in” period before going on display at the zoo, which is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
The pair, who were born in 2003, will be the first pandas to live in the UK for 17 years, since Britain’s last giant panda, Ming-Ming, was sent back to China in 1994 after a failed breeding experiment with her prospective mate, Bao Bao.
Keeper Alison McLean, who will have responsibility for the pandas during their stay in Edinburgh, said her team had received a lot of support from the Chinese authorities. The pandas are currently at the Ya’an reserve in Chengdu, China.
She said: “The Chinese have been really good, really welcoming and have shared a huge amount of information with us. We’re in contact by e-mail on a regular basis and they’re there to back us up.”
The specially designed enclosure has been subjected to rigorous testing from panda experts from China.
The pandas are expected to eat up to 18,000 kilos of bamboo every year, which will be shipped in from a farm in The Netherlands.
“They wanted to make sure we had everything just right,” said Ms McLean. “They’ve worked with pandas for a huge amount of years, we haven’t. They weren’t here throughout the whole build process, and they just wanted to tweak one or two things.”
Dr Chunlin Zang, secretary-general of the CWCA, added: “From the very start, the CWCA has been working in partnership with the RZSS. With this historic arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang, our collaboration has entered a new stage.
“Together, we are looking forward to playing an important role in future giant panda research and conservation.”