Giant pandas arrive in Edinburgh from China

Media caption,
Yang Guang settling into his new home in Edinburgh Zoo

Two giant pandas have arrived in Edinburgh after flying to Scotland from China.

The specially-chartered flight for Edinburgh Zoo's new residents, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, touched down just after 13:00.

The pair are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years.

The pandas arrived to wintry conditions in Edinburgh with temperatures of about 3C, having left temperatures of 10C at Chengdu Airport.

BBC Scotland correspondent Colin Blane said: "I have been told the male panda, Yang Guang, is very fond of a roll around in the snow.

"The conditions should be to his liking."

He said the pandas had very different characters.

"The female is more coy and shy, whereas the male is more outgoing," he said.

"Neither is aggressive, they're both easy going - eating and sleeping a lot of the time."

In-flight meals

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Edinburgh's Lord Provost George Grubb, and the Chinese Charge d'Affaires were at the airport to meet the pandas.

Tian Tian was first to be taken off the 777 aircraft, the "FedEx Panda Express", in her specially-designed crate with perspex sides.

Media caption,
Pandas fly from China to live at Edinburgh Zoo

The female panda and Yang Guang were then loaded onto a lorry for the 15-minute trip to the zoo.

FedEx Express said the pair had enjoyed in-flight meals of bamboo, apples, carrots, a special panda cake and mineral water.

They were accompanied by a vet and two animal handlers from Edinburgh Zoo and the Bifengxia Panda Base.

Messages and artwork by more than 1,000 Chinese children, wishing Tian Tian and Yang Guang good luck in their new home, were sent with the pair.

Crowds gathered at the zoo to welcome the pandas as they arrived.

Tian Tian, meaning "sweetie", and Yang Guang, meaning "sunshine", will have two weeks to settle in to their new enclosure before going on display to the public.

The pandas' new £250,000 home at the zoo includes two separate enclosures.

When Tian Tian comes into season the pair will be introduced to each other - possibly in February or March.

Tian Tian has had twin cubs in the past, and Yang Guang has also fathered cubs - though not as a pair together.

Breeding hopes

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "I know we're all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the arrival of a little Mac panda sometime before too long."

Chinese Charge d'Affaires Qin Gang added: "The father of Yang Guang keeps the world record of fathering 107 panda cubs, and the mother of Tian Tian, known as Panda Mum, has also given birth to many baby pandas.

"I hope that this pair will carry the gene of their parents."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Tian Tian was first to be taken off the plane

Animal welfare campaigners have criticised the zoo for accepting the pandas, saying it is a "primarily commercial deal".

They claim it is not a credible way to go about saving the giant panda.

Bringing the pandas to Edinburgh has involved a five-year effort by the zoo.

The eight-year-old pair will stay at the zoo for at least 10 years.

Officials hope their presence will boost tourism and the Scottish economy.

The Scottish government said the loan of the pandas symbolised a "growing friendship" between Scotland and China.

The arrival of the pandas coincides with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's visit to China to promote business and cultural links.

Mr Salmond said he would thank the Chinese Vice Premier, Li Keqiang, in a meeting to take place in Beijing on Monday.

He said: "The great gift of these giant pandas symbolises the great and growing relationship between Scotland and China, which we will take further forward tomorrow when Vice Premier Li and I meet and discuss Scotland and China's business, cultural and diplomatic links which are growing ever stronger to the benefit of both nations."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the arrival of the pandas was a reflection of the strength of the UK's relationship with China.

"It shows that we can co-operate closely not only on commerce, but on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues as well," he said.

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