A GERMAN firm has been confirmed as the main supplier of bamboo for the two giant pandas shortly to arrive at Edinburgh Zoo.
Reiner Winkendick is set to provide 85% of the animals’ bamboo requirement for the initial phase of the ten-year period that pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang will reside at the zoo.
The supply will be grown in bamboo plantations at a nursery on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
The other 15% will be grown at special sites around the zoo itself, allowing members of the public to see for themselves the delicate process involved in cultivating a plant that contributes almost exclusively to the giant pandas’ diet. After the first three years of the project, the zoo’s home grown supply will be gradually increased.
Between them, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, are expected to chomp their way through nearly 18,000 kg of bamboo every year, or around 20 three-metre stems each day. And, over the course of a year, the giant pandas will be tempted with at least 25 different species of the plant, to encourage a variety in their diet which replicates their natural environment in the mountain ranges of central China.
The pandas’ rather exacting dietary requirements have presented a horticultural challenge for gardening experts at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
Simon Jones, Gardens Manager, explains: “Our bamboo strategy is the result of more than three-years of research, planning and exhaustive negotiations with suppliers across the UK and Europe.
“Our starting point was to ensure a long-term supply of fresh bamboo that was both sustainable and cost-effective. Because bamboo forms such a fundamental part of the giant pandas’ diet, we also had to guarantee consistency of supply, and to ensure that the bamboo was of the highest possible quality while offering the variety of species required for their highly specialised needs.
“Our German supplier grows exclusively for zoos across Europe and has a proven track-record in the large-scale provision of specialist animal feed – including for giant pandas currently in captivity in Berlin and Vienna.
“But we also wanted to procure a supply nearer to home, which is why we have five growing sites spread across the zoo’s grounds. At any one time, our home-grown supply can provide up to three weeks bamboo, enough to cover any emergency situation. Our on-site nurseries will also form an essential part of the public’s understanding and engagement with the panda experience.”
To further guarantee consistency of supply, the RZSS’s Gardens Team has established a network of home-grown suppliers as a contingency against any interruption of bamboo provision caused by any unforeseen events or logistical supply challenges.
This informal group covers a range of private UK growers all of whom have keen interest in cultivating bamboo for leisure and commercial purposes. This ranges from the Earl of Glasgow’s Kelburn Castle Estate in Largs and Cornish estates famous for being the home of the UK’s bamboo furniture industry, to private householders from Ratho and Helensburgh.
In total, the Zoo’s bamboo provision will cost around £70,000 per year to provide enough to feed both giant pandas. The imported bamboo, which is organic and grown without the use of pesticides, will arrive from the Dutch nursery every two weeks, and kept in specially created storage facility to ensure maximum freshness an important quality for the giant pandas’ dietary requirements.
The pandas will be fed five different species of the plant each day, including both the leaves and stem, and their menu will change depending on the time of year, reflecting natural behaviour in the wild. In the spring, for example, the pandas will feast on the young, juicy shoots of just grown bamboo.
Simon Jones added: “Since it was announced earlier this year that the pandas were coming to Scotland, we have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest and offers we have received from members of the public wanting to grow and supply bamboo for us.
“Unfortunately we can’t accept all the offers, but plan to develop education-based projects with all those who have shown interest – including many primary schools in the area – to involve them in the ongoing challenge of feeding our newest arrivals.”
Breeding panda pair Tian Tian (meaning ‘sweetie’) and Yang Guang (‘sunlight’) are set to arrive in Edinburgh Zoo from the Ya’an reserve inChengdu,China. The Giant Panda Project is funded entirely from charitable donations from the RZSS and through sponsorship, offering unparalleled opportunities in terms of international corporate, commercial and diplomatic relationships between China and theUK.
Bamboozled! 10 Fascinating Facts About the Panda’s Favourite Food
Bamboo is a grass, belonging to the taxonomic family Gramineae (grasses), sub-family Bambusoideae (bamboo). In total there are around 1,450 species of the plant which grows on all of the world’s continents apart from Antarctica.
It is the fastest growing grass on the planet and has been recorded growing at an amazing 47.6 inches in a 24-hour period. Some of the world’s largest bamboo can grow more than 30 metres (98ft) tall and be as large as 6-8 inches in diameter.
Bamboo is a crucial element in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A typical grove of bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. Because of this, bamboo is a great way of reducing carbon footprints and helping fight global warming.
Bamboo can tolerate extreme conditions with some species being found 4000 metres above sea level in the Andes and Himalayas. It was the first plant to re-green after the atomic blast inHiroshima,Japanin 1945.
While bamboo is an easy plant to grow with little history of disease, it has a volatile life-cycle. Unlike other grasses, once it progresses to full-flowering, a rather unpredictable process, the entire plant dies.
While giant pandas will eat up to 25 different type of bamboo, forming 99% of their diet, they are also carnivores who have an appetite for rats, mice, pikas (rabbit-like creatures), insects and other vegetation.
Other animals that eat bamboo include the red panda of Nepal and bamboo lemurs of Madagascar, as well as mountain gorillas of Central Africa. Chimps and elephants also eat the stalks and have been documented consuming bamboo sap which was fermented and alcoholic.
Cornwall has been traditionally home to the UK’s bamboo furniture making industry, and many landowners and private gardeners continue to grow bamboo in abundance. Many are members of the thriving Bamboo Society of Great Britain.
Bamboo has a wide variety of construction uses, especially in South Asia and the South Pacific. In China, bamboo was used to hold up simple suspension bridges – one such bridge in the Qian-Xian region is referenced in writings dating back to 960 AD and may have stood since as far back as the third century BC.
Bamboo fibre has been used to make paper in China since early times. A high quality hand-made paper is still produced in small quantities. Coarse bamboo paper is still used to make spirit money in many Chinese communities.