Edinburgh Zoo panda cub worth millions to city

Tian Tian is now the centre of attention following news that she may well be pregnant. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tian Tian is now the centre of attention following news that she may well be pregnant. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE spin-off from panda cub-mania will send cash registers ringing across the Capital and reap a huge windfall worth tens of millions for city coffers.

Tian Tian may be keeping mum about her secret but, if she does become the first captive Giant Panda in British history to have a cub or, better still, cubs, it would provide a financial fillip lasting years and would be worth millions of pounds.

A successful birth would thrust Edinburgh into the glare of the world’s media and, judging by post-natal figures at American zoos, the attraction’s custodians should expect an unprecedented surge of interest both at home and abroad, with record-breaking attendances proving a lucrative boon for business in the city.

Today, it was estimated that a baby panda could be worth as much as £50 million to the Edinburgh economy over the next decade – and that figure could rise further if Tian Tian is bearing twins, as is often the case.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has reported its overall income soared to nearly £15m last year, and the number of visitors leapt by 51 per cent following the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang in late December 2011. Attendances are expected to double again – comfortably taking it above the one million mark – if a cub is born at the zoo, which is celebrating its centenary this year.

A huge upshot of a fruitful breeding programme will be strengthened bonds with China as a trading partner. Trade with the country was worth £1.5 billion to the Scottish economy in the last decade and that figure is expected to double by 2020.

Graham Birse, of Edinburgh Napier’s Business School, said the panda birth would boost tourism, attract international attention and solidify trade links with a global powerhouse. “The spin off for Edinburgh is huge and we’d be talking tens of millions easily for the city,” he said. “We would expect to see not just the anticipated surge in interest in a cuddly wee panda but there is the symbolic gesture that a birth and a successful outcome to the trade agreement between China represents.

“It’s good for conservation, good for tourism but let’s not overlook it – it’s also good for trade and tourism between the two destinations.

“We have seen a surge in Chinese visitors – both students and trade exchanges – in the last two or three years and would now expect that to become a trend.”

Around 500,000 people visited the zoo in the year following the pandas’ arrival in December 2011. Visitors included actor Nicole Kidman and the Princess Royal.

Edinburgh Zoo will join an elite gang and follow in the footsteps of Atlanta, San Diego, Madrid and Vienna zoos if a cub is born. Rebecca Snyder is curator of mammals at Zoo Atlanta which has successfully bred three giant pandas since an adult pair arrived from China in 2006.

Zoo attendances spiked at 810,000 after the first cub was born – a lift of 20 per cent on their yearly average.

She said: “We had a big bump in our visitor numbers when we first got our pandas and after we had them for a couple of years our attendance returned to around average.

“However we saw another significant increase when we our first cub was born and went on to exhibit. That seemed to reinvigorate everyone about pandas in the city and across the country. We received a lot of media attention locally and nationally. We did get some international coverage, and certainly it was a big story in China.

“I have noticed that since we had the pandas that we see more Asian guests, which I assume has to be to do with the pandas being here.”

Even though the panda could be born later this month, zoo bosses expect it would not be exhibited to the public until January at the earliest.

The cub, or cubs, would be named 100 days after birth, in keeping with Chinese tradition, and would officially be the property of China.

Confirmation of the baby panda’s sex is likely to be by physical examination at around one to three-months-old.

A VisitScotland spokesman said Edinburgh’s pandas had been a “revelation” for the city. “Visitor numbers rocketed and there was tremendous hype around the city, Scotland and the rest of the world,” he said.

“If Tian Tian is indeed pregnant then the benefits for Edinburgh could be enormous. Images of Edinburgh Zoo will be shown around the world and undoubtedly create a massive buzz, not just for the visitor attraction itself, but for other tourism-related businesses in the city and the rest of the country.”

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Donald Wilson said the cubs could reap “huge benefits” for the city. He said: “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but the signs are promising.” He said if the zoo can deliver a cub it would be “a marvellous way for it to mark its centenary and a quite fitting representation of our blossoming relationship with China”.

ID of daddy may take some time

HAVING been artificially inseminated with semen from Yang Guang and a German panda, the question of paternity may not be answered for many months yet.

If she elects to rear the cub, it could be several months before zoo bosses can confirm who the daddy is.

But pandas will sometimes reject their offspring – a step which will see zoo staff hand-rear the animal and allow early identification of its ancestory. In some cases, pandas give birth to twins and it is entirely possible each cub will have a different father. The team are likely to use blood samples from any cub to establish if Yang Guang or Bao Bao – the German bear – is the father.

Panda cubs are tricky to sex, but confirmation is likely to be by a physical examination at around one to three months old. However, if Tian Tian is mother-rearing a cub any examination would be subject to her cooperation.

Will cub be a mountain or rock pile?

Bookies have been offering odds on what any cub could be called

Here are the favourites, courtesy of Ladbrokes.

10/1: Wang Lei (rock pile, male)

10/1: Zhang Lei (rock pile, female)

14/1: Choi (mountain)

16/1: Yun Yun (cloud)

16/1: Yu Yu (rain)

16/1: Gang Gang (strong/hard, male)

20/1: Ning Ning (peaceful, male)

33/1: Adingbao X’iongmao (Edinburgh panda)

50/1: Andy Murray

100/1: George Alexander Louis

Bear facts of pandas

100 to 150 kilograms - The weight of a giant panda.

12 to 38 kilograms - How much bamboo a panda can scoff in just one day.

16 hours - How long a panda spends in the wild collecting food and eating. They rest and sleep the rest of the time.

80 to 200 grams - The weight of a baby panda, 1/900th the weight of its mum.

Six to eight weeks - How old a panda is before it opens its eyes for the first time.

1600 - How many giant pandas there are estimated to be in the wild.

300+ - How many pandas live in zoos and breeding centres around the world.

35 - The age pandas in zoos can live to. Pandas in the wild do not live as long.

0 - The number of pandas born in Britain.

51% - The increase in visitors to Edinburgh zoo since Tian Tian and Yang Guang’s arrival.

95 to 160 days - How long it takes a panda to give birth after mating.