In China they are regarded as a symbol of peace and friendship. As the significance of their latest arrival sinks in, the pandas at the zoo might soon be seen in Edinburgh as more of a symbol of prosperity.
It is not just the extra income that 230,000 extra visitors are expected to bring to the zoo next year that is significant, although that is hugely important to an attraction which is in the middle of a vital – and hugely expensive - modernisation programme.
Nor is it just the millions of pounds – up to £30 million, say the experts – that they will bring in to the wider economy thanks to all the other things many of these visitors will spend their money on while they are here. Chinese tourists are in general some of the biggest spenders who come to these shores and the good publicity Edinburgh will gain is expected to encourage more of them to put the Capital on their itinerary.
It is also the boost that this not-so-tiny bundle of joy is likely to deliver to the city’s already flourishing science sector that we must appreciate.
It is hard to believe that the birth of an animal – however rare and photogenic the species – will enhance the prospects of one of our most sophisticated industries, but the panda effect is real. It has been experienced and measured in other parts of the world from Atlanta to Tokyo, Mexico City to Madrid.
The success of the panda breeding programme at Edinburgh Zoo puts our scientists, particularly our veterinary ones, on the map in China. Their growing reputation in the region puts them in a strong position to win lucrative conracts from one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
The pandas may cost the Royal Zoological Society, which runs the zoo, around £14m to “lease” from China over their ten-year stay, but the returns that are being talked about show why the RZS was so keen to strike a deal.
Amid all the ringing of tills, however, we should not forget to step back for a moment and appreciate the natural wonder taking place on our doorstep.
Captive breeding programmes are no substitute for rare animals thriving in the wild and will always attract controversy.
But while pandas remain one of the most threatened species on the planet it still feels like a privilege to have one born in our city.