Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian leave their home of 12 years to return to China

The charismatic bears left the zoo with their keepers at around 9.45am this morning
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Edinburgh Zoo’s popular giant pandas have left their Edinburgh home this morning - 12 years to the day after arriving in the Capital on 4, December 2011.

Pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian will travel back to their home in China with their head keeper Michael Livingstone, who has formed a close relationship with the adorable pair over the last 12 years.

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The charismatic bears were the UK’s only giant pandas and have been incredibly popular with visitors at the zoo - and in turn have helped raise vital funds for wildlife conservation. Originally brought over as part of a 10-year arrangement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, it was later extended by two years owing to the pandemic.

Giant pandas Yang Guang (pictured) and Tian Tian have been very popular with visitors at Edinburgh Zoo since arriving in December 2011. Photo: RZSSGiant pandas Yang Guang (pictured) and Tian Tian have been very popular with visitors at Edinburgh Zoo since arriving in December 2011. Photo: RZSS
Giant pandas Yang Guang (pictured) and Tian Tian have been very popular with visitors at Edinburgh Zoo since arriving in December 2011. Photo: RZSS

The giant pandas will be flying with China Southern on their 13-hour flight to Chengdu, China which is set to leave at 12.15pm today.

Michael Livingstone, senior animal keeper at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: "It's an emotional day for us keepers that have been fortunate enough to care for Yang Guang and Tian Tian over the years.”

Mr Livingstone added: “It has been the highlight of my career to work this amazing species and I will definitely miss them. I’m lucky enough to be travelling on the plane with them to China to help them settle in and I think it will be nice for them to hear a familiar voice as they get used to their new home."

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Head of living collections at RZSS, Darren McGarry, said: “I know we will all miss Yang Guang and Tian Tian here at the zoo. I was with them on their flight to Edinburgh in 2011 so it will be emotional to see them leave to fly home.

“In early next year I’ll be visiting them in China to see how they are settling in. It has been a privilege to work with giant pandas for over a decade and I am proud of everyone who has played a part in the pair's story at Edinburgh Zoo.”

Mr McGarry added: “We have learned a lot about giant panda reproductive cycles which will help to save the species in the wild."

The RZSS advised on their website there are no plans to reintroduce giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and will instead place emphasis on protecting ‘more endangered animals around the world’ - explaining that the ‘status of giant pandas in the wild has been moved by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) from endangered to vulnerable thanks to conservation efforts in China.’ The panda's enclosure at the zoo will house Koalas temporarily and it is understood that RZSS staff will provide an update of which species will replace the pandas in late 2024.

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Professor Simon Girling, head of veterinary science at RZSS, who first visited the ‘two lovely characters’ in China before they arrived in Edinburgh in 2011 said: “Although it’s sad to see them go, through scientific research by our expert veterinary and keeper teams, working alongside the University of Edinburgh, we have made a significant contribution to our understanding around giant panda fertility, husbandry, and veterinary care - which has been of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China.”

David Field, ceo of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: “Yang Guang and Tian Tian have had an incredible impact by inspiring millions of people to care about nature. Although the pandas will be missed, in their wake we have the opportunity to help protect a new species through our expertise in conservation science and research, public engagement here in Scotland and in the wild by working with global partners.”

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