Edinburgh Zoo pandas ‘could die’ from building noise

Edinburgh Zoo''Yang Guang, the male, in his outdoor enclosure chomping away on  bamboo.
Edinburgh Zoo''Yang Guang, the male, in his outdoor enclosure chomping away on bamboo.
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EDINBURGH’S giant pandas could die as a result of the noise and vibration from drilling work for a nearby development, the zoo’s chairman has warned.

Jeremy Peat has written to the city council’s planning convener, emphasising the danger to Tian Tian and Yang Guang arising from the planned conversion of the former Corstorphine Hospital into flats with new-build homes in the grounds.

And he also hints any adverse effect on the pandas’ health could spark a diplomatic incident with China, which has loaned the animals.

It emerged last week that the Scottish Government had notified the council it may call in the Corstorphine Hospital planning application because of concerns raised by the zoo. Giant pandas have ultrasonic hearing and can pick up noises at very high frequencies.

And the Evening News revealed Yang Guang had already suffered a bout of colic, which zoo bosses believe was related to initial works carried on at the site, which is just yards from the pandas’ enclosure.

We also revealed that one option being considered was relocating the enclosure at the developers’ expense to the other side of the zoo in the hope of removing the pandas from the noise.

In his letter, Mr Peat, who is chair of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said:

“The intended developer has carried out tests on the likely noise and vibration impact of its planned drilling and related works. With the support of an expert adviser, RZSS has examined those results.

“The noise and vibration will clearly have a very major adverse impact on the animals in their current enclosure, which could lead to one or both dying.” He continued: “We have also arranged for further tests to be carried out by our expert advisers. While we await these results, it is extremely doubtful and may effectively be impossible to safeguard the risks to the pandas caused by the development, should they remain in their present location.”

Mr Peat said an alternative location had been identified in the zoo for the pandas.

But he added: “You will appreciate that a new enclosure will require significant redevelopment, taking in the order of a year from now, involving considerable expenditure and, of course, needing planning consent.”

He described China’s loan of the pandas to Edinburgh as a “hugely significant sign of good relations” with the UK and Scotland.

He said he had kept the Chinese Consul General in Edinburgh informed about the proposed development.

And he added that “given the political and cultural significance of the giant pandas”, it “seems reasonable to conclude that any impact to their health by the proposed development would most likely have ramifications beyond animal welfare”.

A zoo spokesman said they had been assured by the council that the wellbeing of the pandas would be protected.

“Discussions are continuing with the development company to consider actions which could be taken to ensure there would be no adverse impact on any animals in our care.”

Edinburgh Western Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This is shocking news. It’s important we listen to the experts about the safety and wellbeing of all animals at the zoo.

“Obviously the Scottish Government is keen to do everything it can to keep China onside at the minute, so I would not be surprised if this development was called in by the government.”

newsen@scotsman.com