Pandas to arrive in Edinburgh within days

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The first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years are to arrive at their new home within days.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang will fly into Edinburgh Airport on Sunday, from the Ya’an reserve in Chengdu, China, to begin their 10-year stay in the Capital.

The date was confirmed ahead of the Scottish First Minister’s visit to China.

Alex Salmond said the pandas could expect “the warmest of Scottish receptions”.

He said: “I will be in China myself on the day they arrive, signing a cultural exchange agreement with the Chinese, and I am sure all Scotland will be delighted to welcome Tian Tian and Yang Guang with the warmest of Scottish receptions awaiting them.

“Having the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo is a considerable honour and will be a huge draw for visitors and will give a welcome boost to the economy and to tourism.

“Securing the loan of the pandas symbolises the great and growing friendship between Scotland and China and is a testament to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s world-class reputation for research, science and conservation.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to further strengthen our business, cultural and diplomatic links with China and for people in Scotland.

“We particularly want our young people to learn more about pandas and we have an exciting education programme to bring alive the many wonderful learning opportunities offered by the pandas’ 10-year stay in Scotland.”

Breeding pair Tian Tian - meaning “sweetie” - and Yang Guang - meaning “sunlight” - were born in 2003.

The animals will live in Edinburgh Zoo under the care of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

They will arrive in Scotland on a specially chartered flight - the FedEx Panda Express, a Boeing 777 Freighter decked out in customised panda livery which will travel non-stop.

The pandas will then have a two-week “settling-in” period in their new enclosure, before their first public outing.

Hugh Roberts, chief executive of Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We have been looking forward to this moment for five years now, since we first embarked on this epic journey to bring the giant pandas to Scotland.

“The arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang is a historic occasion for the zoo, for Scotland, and for the UK as a whole.

“Our dedicated team at the zoo has worked tirelessly to create a world-class enclosure to house our newest additions which will offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view these extraordinary animals.

“The giant pandas will be on loan to us for an initial period of 10 years, in which time we are hopeful that the female, Tian Tian, will give birth to cubs - the first to be born in Scotland.

“This is the beginning of a long-term partnership which will drive a programme of international research which will have massive benefits for the zoo, Scotland and the UK - both in supporting giant panda conservation and in enhancing our programmes in education, science and conservation.

“It is also a highly visible statement of the growing momentum to improve international relations between the UK and China, and a sign that we can further co-operate closely on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues, as well as commerce.”

The date was set following an inspection of the enclosure by the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA).

Dr Chunlin Zang, the secretary-general of the CWCA, said: “We are happy to finally confirm the arrival date for the giant pandas to arrive at Edinburgh Zoo.

“From the very start, the CWCA has been working in partnership with the RZSS.

“With this historic arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang, our collaboration has entered a new stage. Together, we are looking forward to playing an important role in future giant panda research and conservation.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh Zoo said the climate in Edinburgh is very similar to that in their native habitat in Sichuan Province.

He added: “Bamboo will grow well here and the temperature and conditions will suit them well.”