The two pandas have called Edinburgh Zoo home since December 2011, when they were loaned to the Scottish zoo by China for a ten year period.
The ten year loan was extended in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, meaning scots have been able to enjoy panda pride for a little bit longer. But all good things must come to an end and Yang Guang and Tian Tian are set to travel home in October.
As the only two giant pandas in the United Kingdom, Yang Guang and Tian Tian have been a powerhouse attraction for Edinburgh and the UK. They’ve not come cheap either, the total cost of the ten year loan is reported to be over £7.5 million (over 9 million USD). Not only that, Edinburgh Zoo have said it costs over $42k/month just to feed and care for the two giant pandas.
Donors and patrons have made the giant pandas a focus, with many fundraising drives over the last decade focused on the bears. All of those fans will have a chance to meet the pair before they depart later this year, for a chance to say a final farewell.
As you’d expect, Edinburgh Zoo is planning a series of major events to send the black and white superstars home in style.
It’s not just visitor numbers that drove the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which runs Edinburgh Zoo, to house the pandas in the first place. The RZSS has conservation at the heart of its mission and focused on the giant panda because of the threat to the species in the wild.
Many attempts have been made to get the pair to breed, including eight rounds of artificial insemination. Sadly no successful pregnancy has beeen achieved for Tian Tian, despite the care team’s best efforts.
The team at RZSS are not discouraged though, they believe they’ve given the panda pair a tremendous quality of life over the last 12 years, with many new people having learnt about the threat of extinction facing giant pandas in the wild. After the pandas leave in late 2023, Edinburgh Zoo has plans to “decide on a new species with a crucial factor being how we can support conservation in the wild”.
We don’t know yet where Yang Guang and Tian Tian will go to in China, having originally been born in the Beijing Zoo. The pair are now nearly twenty years old and they may yet be loaned to another country or live out their days happily in one of China’s large panda research centers. Either way, they will be sorely missed in the UK and it might not be long before another major zoo there picks up their own pandas.