With panda fever continuing to sweep through the Capital, Maisie Dalton is certainly going to be the envy of all her friends.
The six-year-old from Willowbrae has won an exclusive Evening News competition to welcome Edinburgh Zoo’s new superstars Tian Tian and Yang Guang – or Sweetie and Sunshine as they are also known – when they arrive at Edinburgh Airport on Sunday.
Fifty runners-up – along with their families – will also be able to join the official welcome for the pandas at Edinburgh Airport.
Since the announcement of the giant pandas’ arrival date, zoo memberships have rocketed by 50 per cent.
Members will be able to catch a glimpse of the bears on December 13 – three days before the general public.
And thousands of people have been making reservations online.
For the Evening News competition, primary school children were asked to explain why they thought the pandas’ arrival would be good for the Capital.
Parsons Green pupil Maisie, who lives in Willowbrae with mum Morag, 35, dad, Peter, 41, and eight-year-old sister, Zara, said: “I’m really pleased to have won and I’m excited about seeing the pandas.”
Maisie will represent children across Scotland as she take her place alongside VIPs and dignitaries at the ceremony.
Morag said: “I’m amazed that my daughter has been given this prize.
“We’re members of the zoo anyway and we’ve been waiting on the pandas getting here – we’ve been so excited about going to see them, but we never thought we would be among the first in the UK to see the pandas.”
An Edinburgh Zoo spokeswoman said: “We loved Maisie’s entry as it’s straight from the mouth of babes. You can just imagine her saying it.
“Her excitement, which we all share, comes across so well. We too would share her delight if Sweetie and Sunshine managed to have baby pandas!”
As well as being at the heart of the welcome ceremony, Maisie will be invited back to the zoo to be among the first people to see the animals when they go on show.
All the runners-up will get free entry to the zoo on the day, as well as panda jackets, hats and toys.
Among the runner-ups was ten-year-old Granton Primary pupil Callum Donoghue, who said: “Edinburgh Zoo is so lucky to have this chance. The pandas will be so educational and a great new attraction.
“Pandas are one of the most endangered species in the world and it is a chance of a lifetime for me seeing them in my home city. I can’t wait.”
Six-year-old Adam Smith from Leith said: “I think it’s good that pandas are coming to Edinburgh because there aren’t many pandas left in China and we can help to look after them.
“I would like to see them and so would my granny.”
And Beth Pennycook, from the Gyle, said: “I am nine years old, and I love pandas! I think the pandas would be great for people to see and learn about their interesting and lovable lives.
“I also think it would be amazingly cute and adorable to actually see Tian Tian and Yang Guang in real life.
“Edinburgh would also get popular if they breeded.”
Tian Tian, the female, and Yang Guang, the male, are the first pandas to live in the UK for 17 years.
The pair will be transported to Scotland on the specially chartered FedEx Panda Express from the Bifengxia Panda Base, near the city of Ya’an, China. After they arrive, they will spend two weeks getting used to their new home before visitors are allowed to see them on December 16.
The pandas will live at the zoo under the “custodianship” of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Edinburgh Zoo has spent more than £250,000 constructing a special enclosure surrounded by bullet-proof glass to allow up to 600 spectators an hour to see the animals. Special “panda cams” will capture the antics of Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with the footage broadcast online.
Edinburgh Zoo has been hit hard by declining visitor numbers and income fell last year by £1.1 million.
But it is hoped the arrival of the giant pandas, known as the “biggest crowd-pullers on Earth”, will reverse the attraction’s fortunes. Visitor numbers at Adelaide Zoo rocketed by 70 per cent after pandas arrived. The WWF estimates there are around 1600 giant pandas in the wild, now confined to forest areas high in the mountains of south-western China.
THE WINNING ENTRY
“I think it’s awesome that the pandas are coming to Edinburgh because they will have a fantastic new home and lots of friendly faces coming to visit. I also hope that they are able to have baby pandas which will help to stop pandas becoming extinct. I am extremely excited!!!!!!”