Edinburgh Zoo staff in panda suits to test webcams

A member of staff at the zoo gives a thumbs-up for a job well done. Picture: Contributed
A member of staff at the zoo gives a thumbs-up for a job well done. Picture: Contributed
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Employees from Edinburgh Zoo were dressed up in panda suits and released into the enclosure to help set-up a state-of-the-art webcam which will broadcast the antics of the giant pandas across the world.

• Click here to watch the bizarre footage

The camera technology senses a subject’s movement, focusing in on and tracking it – which meant zoo staff had to dress up in panda suits and mimic the movements of Yang Guang and Tian Tian. The bizarre task ensured that the highly sensitive cameras, developed by Edinburgh-based firm Indigo Vision, will be able to track the animals properly.

Indigo Vision spokesman Paul Murphy said: “We specialise in high-end, high-definition CCTV and video surveillance technology that senses a subject’s movement, focusing in on and tracking it.

“In most cases, this means tracking a person or vehicle; the programmes have been specially designed to pick up the movements of human beings or vehicles.

“To detect Tian Tian and Yang Guang, however, whose movements differ greatly from ours, the technology had to be recalibrated by men pretending to be pandas, so we had people dress up in panda suits to roam around the enclosure to allow our cameras to be optimised for their movements.

“Animals obviously move at completely different speeds and in different ways to human beings.”

The webcam will capture the behaviour of the two pandas in the run-up to the mating season.Already, the pair have expressed an interest in each other, with male Yang Guang doing handstands to spread his scent and show his virility. Tian Tian, who has also been heard calling to Yang Guang in recent days, has been trained to stand on her hind legs so that keepers can perform ultrasound scans to check her ovaries and womb.

Last year’s 36-hour mating season ended in disappointment after the pair failed to hit it off, but with both now appearing to be in the mood, the early signs are good.

Indigo Vision donated the cameras and configuration time to Edinburgh Zoo.

Jon-Paul Orsi, digital manager for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “Other than visiting in person, this is the next best way to follow the antics of Tian Tian and Yang Guang. The timing couldn’t be better either as there isn’t a more exciting time than breeding season to tune in to watch the panda cams. There will be plenty of seasonal behaviour to see, such as scent marking and in Yang Guang’s case panda handstands and increased appetite for bamboo.”

But the zoo has insisted the footage will not get too steamy.

Jon-Paul added: “Of course, like last year, when the time is right for the pandas to meet, it will be 
private and take place off-view to the panda cams.”