Visitors to the Edinburgh Zoo had their final chance to see and bid farewell on Thursday to a pair of popular giant pandas who are returning to China after more than a decade in Scotland.
Yang Guang and Tian Tian are leaving in early December after a 12-year stay. They have been a popular attraction since people lined the road outside the zoo to greet them when they arrived in 2011.
They are the only pandas in the UK. After unsuccessful breeding attempts – natural and artificial – the zoo said it has no plans to bring in others because a global biodiversity crisis requires it to work on protecting more endangered animals.
“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," said David Field, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
“That added interest in the pandas’ departure this year has allowed us to connect many more people with the conservation causes [we are] actively involved with, and with nature more generally.”
Yang Guang and Tian Tian were loaned to the zoo in 2011 under a 10-year agreement that the China Wildlife Conservation Association extended for two more years.
They are the latest pandas to leave the West after exchange agreements have expired and not been renewed by Beijing.
The only US zoo with pandas is in Atlanta and its agreement expires next year.
Washington’s National Zoo sent its three pandas – Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji – to China earlier in November. The black and white bears at the San Diego Zoo were sent home in 2019 and the remaining panda at the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee returned earlier this year.
President Xi Jinping had said during a recent trip to the US that his government was “ready to continue” lending the bears to American zoos, giving hope to US panda fans that they have not seen the last of them. (AP)