Scotland bids farewell to giant pandas

Animals soon to begin journey back to China as loan agreement comes to an end

A panda with its tongue out looks out from behind a bamboo plant
Visitors have been rushing to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang before they return to China
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Visitors to Edinburgh Zoo are saying goodbye to two giant pandas today, as zookeepers begin to prepare the animals for their return to China.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang's arrival in Scotland in 2011 "was a huge moment that made headlines all over the world", said The National. "Flag-waving crowds lined the streets as police escorted lorries" transporting the animals through the city, said The Times.

"Scots came out in their droves to see the pair," with the zoo's ticket sales almost doubling in the following 12 months as a result, said The National. But the 10-year loan agreement – which was extended during the pandemic – has now come to an end.

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"In an era of less fraught international relations," China first began loaning pandas to countries in 1941 as a "diplomatic gesture", said The Times. Now, "against a backdrop of souring relations between China and the West", there are concerns that the animals "will soon disappear from zoos in the West".  

The zoo has run a "Giant Goodbye" programme for the last year, inviting visitors to attend talks and "panda breakfasts" ahead of the pair's departure, said The National. 

The exact details of the pandas' travel arrangements are not being disclosed, "for security and safety reasons", said the BBC. They will be travelling with zookeeper Michael Livingstone, who has looked after Tian Tian and Yang Guang "since day one". 

"I think it'll be a sad day. I am very happy to be going with them and feel lucky so it's quite nice I get to end that with them," he told the broadcaster.

"Despite many attempts", including the use of artificial insemination, the pair did not manage to reproduce. But Livingstone told The Times there is "still hope" that Tian Tian could conceive once she returns to China. "She is not too old and maybe it will help just being in a different setting." 

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