Romance hopes as pandas get close in their new zoo home

Yang Guang takes it easy in his new home
Yang Guang takes it easy in his new home
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HOPES that Edinburgh might be welcoming a baby giant panda next year have risen after it emerged the Capital’s new pair are already getting close.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been exploring their outside enclosure after spending the first few days indoors acclimatising to their new surroundings at Edinburgh Zoo.

Tian Tian: Crowd-pleaser, along with Yang Guang. Picture: Neil Hanna

Tian Tian: Crowd-pleaser, along with Yang Guang. Picture: Neil Hanna

And while the breeding pair – whose names mean Sunshine and Sweetie – are in separate enclosures, they have been getting close by calling to each other and touching paws as they settle into their luxury pad.

As they were unveiled to the media, ahead of going on show to the public on Friday, keepers explained they were hopeful the pair would mate next year.

Darren McGarry, head of animals, said: “We’re hoping they will mate naturally, but we will maybe have to help them.

“They are clearly interested in each other and giving each other attention. There is definitely a look of love between them.”

Yesterday the female bear Tian Tian remained rather shy and elusive, but a boisterous Yang Guang proudly paced around his den, regularly stopping for the cameras and settling down in front of the crowds to chomp bamboo, carrot and potato.

His mate-to-be shyly popped her head out of her inside den in the neighbouring enclosure before retreating.

Alison MacLean, the zoo’s team leader of giant pandas and carnivores – who is on call 24 hours a day and admitted she even watched the pandas on the webcam after work – said that she can now spend time playing with and training Tian Tian, who has taken a particular shine to her despite her quiet nature.

She said: “Tian Tian is a lot shyer and quieter, while Yang Guang is in your face. He’s a gentle giant. For a big panda he’s very, very easy going.”

The pandas are offered bamboo first thing before a training session, which they can choose to attend or ignore.

Alison said: “The door is left open and it’s up to them if they come. During training we’ll check paws and teeth. Yang Guang will now open his mouth wide when we ask.”

The pandas flew into the Capital just over a week ago from the Ya’an reserve in Chengdu, China, marking the end of a five-year effort to bring the animals to Scotland. It is hoped that the pandas, the first to live in the UK for 17 years, will eventually have cubs.

“It’s the million-dollar question really, isn’t it?” Ms MacLean said. “They seem to get on extremely well but we have to spend a bit of time and just make sure that the female is in season and receptive to the male. And then when she is, that’s the point when we’ll open the door. And after that, it’s kind of down to them.”