The man responsible for bringing the pandas to Edinburgh Zoo has quit as it was announced the breeding programme was being put on hold.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang will not be involved in an attempt to produce offspring this year after years of failed efforts to produce a cub.
The news comes as the zoo confirmed the exit of Iain Valentine as the its director of giant pandas.
The zoo said the decision to suspend breeding was made in order to improve the chances of the animals’ future endeavours, with Tian Tian failing to produce a cub six times since arriving in 2011.
A Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) spokeswoman said: “We will not attempt to breed our giant pandas this year because we want to further assess the incredibly complex and unpredictable breeding process.
“This pause, which is supported by our giant panda team and other key specialists, will allow us further time to consider the scientific data, our own experiences and those of colleagues around the world, including the latest thinking on giant panda accommodation.
“The pause will also enable us to make some enhancements to our giant panda enclosure which would not have been practical either during or between breeding seasons. We very much hope Tian Tian has a cub in the future.”
Tian Tian has had cubs in China, but not while in the UK. The zoo tried natural breeding in 2012 and has attempted artificial insemination each year since 2013.
Elisa Allen, director of pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), said: “Regardless of the reason it’s happening, it’s good news if cubs won’t be born into a life of captivity – during which they would have inevitably suffered from depression and frustration as a result of being denied everything that’s natural and important to them.
“Breeding cubs does nothing to protect pandas in nature – the only real hope of doing that is to protect their rapidly disappearing natural habitat and severely punish anyone who interferes with them.
“Edinburgh Zoo’s funds should be directed towards habitat conservation, and all breeding programmes should be ended immediately.”
It was thought Tian Tian was pregnant last year, after her hormone levels spiked, but in September keepers realised she was not expecting.
The bears arrived in 2011 and are due to remain at Edinburgh Zoo for a decade. They were brought to the UK under a historic agreement between the UK and Chinese governments.
Libby Anderson, from animal welfare charity OneKind, said she was pleased the pandas would not be subjected to invasive artificial insemination procedures. She said: “Now is the time to leave the pandas in peace and we hope that the suspension will continue beyond the time required to improve their enclosure.”
Green councillor Gavin Corbett said: “The failure of the breeding programme exposes the weakness of international panda diplomacy. It reinforces that the real future for these magnificent creatures lies in the protection of their natural habitats in the wild, not being gawked at in a cage.”