Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Keepers meet pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang in China

Zookeepers have travelled to China for their first face-to-face meeting with the two giant pandas which are to be transferred to Edinburgh Zoo.

The team spent three days at the Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya'an observing the animals and finalising plans for their move to Scotland.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang, both born in 2003, are to be brought to Edinburgh under an historic agreement with China.

They will be the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years.

The pandas will be housed at Edinburgh Zoo under the custodianship of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

A date for their arrival has not yet been set.

The Edinburgh Zoo group which visited China included Alison Maclean, the team leader who will care for the pandas once they arrive in Edinburgh.

She said: "It is a truly amazing experience to come face to face with these incredible animals and meeting Tian Tian and Yang Guang for the first time is a moment I will remember forever.

"It is a real honour to be part of this international breeding programme and I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with these precious bears.

"The training is very similar to how we work with the bears currently at Edinburgh Zoo and I find it essential in caring for such animals.

"It enables us to work closely and safely with the bears and means we can spot any physical changes quickly."

Image caption Female Giant Panda Tian Tian in her enclosure at the Bifengxia Panda Centre

She said this will be particularly important with the female Tian Tian, as keepers need to be able to identify any pregnancy as early as possible.

During last month's visit, Ms Maclean spent her time getting to know Tian Tian, whose name means "sweetness" and the male Yang Guang, which means "sunlight".

Zookeepers said it was important for the pair to become familiar with her voice and presence for a smooth transition to their new home.

Ms Maclean also observed specialist training sessions with the giant pandas, to help her to communicate with them while in her care and aid daily routines and health checks.

In the coming months she is to return to Bifengxia Panda Base for more one-to-one training with the local team of experts.

The visit to China was led by Iain Valentine, RZSS's director of animals, conservation and education.

Mr Valentine said: "Primarily, our research plan will be looking to provide further insight into the genetic make-up of giant pandas, including the diseases to which they are prone and their choice of food.

"There is still a long way to go in the world's conservation efforts and research such as this is vital if we are to ensure the survival of the giant panda."

The pandas move was announced on 10 January during Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang's official visit to the UK.

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