Scotland’s resident giant pandas, who have lived in the capital for nearly 12 years, will be returned to their native China in early December as their 10 year contract comes to an end.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) announced on Monday (4 September) that Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian (Sweetie) will likely be moved from Edinburgh Zoo within the first two weeks of the month this year although their exact date of departure is still being finalised.
The zoo has been paying £750,000 annually to China for the pandas.
The wildlife charity described the pandas as having an “incredible impact” during their stay by connecting millions of visitors with nature.
The pair were originally brought to Scotland in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the RZSS and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by a further two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite efforts to breed the two pandas, female Tian Tian has not produced a cub during her time in Edinburgh.
She was believed to be pregnant in August 2017 but her hormone levels and behaviour later returned to normal.
Alison Maclean, carnivore team leader at Edinburgh Zoo, commented: “We are making arrangements with our partners in China for Yang Guang and Tian Tian to return in early December, possibly during the first week.
“Visitors to the zoo can expect to see them indoors and outside until the end of November, after which viewing will be outdoors only until they leave.
“Having cared for Yang Guang and Tian Tian since they arrived in 2011, I will be travelling back to China with them, to help them settle into their new homes.”
David Field, RZSS chief executive, said, “With more than a million species at risk of extinction and our natural world in crisis, Yang Guang and Tian Tian have had an incredible impact by inspiring millions of people to care about nature.
“Through scientific research alongside the University of Edinburgh, we have also made a significant contribution to our understanding of giant pandas, which will be of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China.
“It is encouraging that in recent years the outlook for giant pandas in the wild has improved, which gives real hope for the future.”
The giant panda habitat at Edinburgh Zoo will become home to a new species which RZSS can support in the wild, which will be announced next year.
“Our vision is of a world where nature is protected, valued and loved, which is why we have made an important pledge to reverse the decline of at least 50 species by 2030,” said Mr Field.
“We have reached significant milestones recently with the release of wildcats, pine hoverflies and dark bordered beauty moths in the Scottish Highlands.
“With a fantastic home at Edinburgh Zoo, combined with our international expertise in conservation science and research, we have an opportunity to help protect a new species through public engagement here in Scotland and in the wild by working with global partners.”