ZOO bosses fear one of Edinburgh’s giant pandas has already been made ill by the noise of building work on a nearby site.
The Scottish Government has notified the city council that ministers may call in the planning application to convert the former Corstorphine Hospital into new homes, amid fears that work on the site could affect the pandas’ health.
Giant pandas like Tian Tian and Yang Guang, on loan from China since 2011, have ultrasonic hearing and can pick up noises at very high frequencies, sparking concerns about prolonged construction work just yards from their enclosure.
The Evening News also understands male panda Yang Guang had a bout of colic in November, shortly after initial works had been carried out on the hospital site. Zoo bosses cannot prove noise from the site was linked to the illness, but they are said to believe it may have been the cause.
The zoo is in talks with the developers, Sundial Dundas Corstorphine, to try to find a solution to the problem.
One suggestion is that the panda enclosure could be relocated – at the developers’ expense – to the other side of the zoo in the hope of removing them from the noise.
Hopes that Tian Tian might give birth to cubs during her stay in Edinburgh have so far been disappointed. Academic research suggests noise disturbance and any associated stress is a particular concern during the breeding season.
The planning proposal is to create 76 apartments at the old hospital at up to £500,000, including 44 new-build homes, along with car parking and landscaping.
The government letter to the council says ministers could decide to take over the decision on the application in view of concerns “which could raise issues of national importance – these include possible negative health impacts for giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo during construction”.
Corstorphine Tory councillor Scott Douglas said: “There is no doubt the health and wellbeing of the pandas must come first in this situation. I understand any significant noise from work on the site might harm the pandas and deprive Edinburgh of one of its greatest attractions.”
Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “West Edinburgh has seen a proliferation of new housing over the past ten years, which is not sustainable in terms of medical provision or road infrastructure, so I always have a sceptical view when it comes to new plans.
“However, Corstorphine residents will be anxious the hospital site does not fall into a state of disrepair and go unused.
“There has to be some middle ground here. We have to recognise the concerns of the zoo and hopefully ensure any development in the areas is mindful of local residents, both human and animal.”
A spokesman for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said: “We would be concerned by any development which may disturb animals in our care, particularly sensitive species such as our giant pandas.
“We are in continuing contact with the company proposing to develop the former Corstorphine Hospital to consider actions which could be taken to ensure there would be no adverse impact on animal welfare.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government’s feedback has been received and will be considered as part of the planning process.”