Visitors to Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo bid farewell to the beloved giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, who are returning to China after more than a decade in the United Kingdom on November 30. The pair arrived in Scotland in 2011 and became a significant attraction, being the UK’s only giant pandas. Unfortunately, they are set to return to China as part of a 10-year loan, which was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yang Guang and Tian Tian made headlines in 2011 as the first pandas to arrive in the UK in 17 years, arriving in a plane dubbed the “FedEx Panda Express.” Within a year, their presence had a substantial impact, boosting ticket sales by about 50%.
The giant pandas are scheduled to begin their journey home in early December, and access to their enclosures will be restricted for visitors from Thursday. The exact departure date has not been disclosed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) due to security concerns. The RZSS paid an annual fee of one million dollars to China for the pandas.
Yang Guang, described as a “people panda” who enjoys interaction with keepers, and Tian Tian, known for being more reserved in her interactions, arrived in Edinburgh as part of a 10-year agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was extended for two years.
Zookeeper Michael Livingstone, who has cared for the pandas since their arrival, expressed both anxiety and sadness about their departure, as some staff members have been with the bears throughout their stay. RZSS Chief Executive David Field noted that Yang Guang and Tian Tian have had a profound impact, inspiring millions to care about nature.
In a broader context, panda diplomacy in the West has seen changes, with Washington’s National Zoo and San Diego Zoo sending their pandas back to China, and speculation arises about Beijing gradually withdrawing pandas from American and European zoos amid rising tensions. President Xi Jinping, however, expressed readiness to continue lending pandas to American zoos during his recent visit to the US. China’s tradition of offering pandas as diplomatic gifts shifted to loaning them for 10 years, with the possibility of extensions, since the 1980s.