Pandas given star treatment as they touch down in Scotland

0
2
TWO giant pandas have finally arrived in Scotland after years of planning and a 5000-mile flight from China.Tian Tian and Yang Guang – meaning “Sweetie” and “Sunshine” – touched down to the sound of Scottish bagpipes at around 1.30pm on Sunday.

The pair were also met by a red carpet as their specially charted FedEx plane (dubbed the “Panda Express”) landed at Edinburgh Airport.

The zoo’s chief executive described the pair as a “Christmas present for Scotland”.

The bears were on public view within minutes of their arrival as they were transported in special transparent perspex crates from the plane’s cargo hold to trucks that would take them to their new home at Edinburgh Zoo.

The landing strip was bathed in light as if two movie stars were arriving on Scottish soil.

And as they arrived to acclimatise to their new enclosure hundreds gathered outside the zoo waving Scottish and Chinese flags and greeted the new arrivals with cheers.

A pipe band played Scotland the Brave as the pandas were driven up the steep road to their new home.

Zoo chief executive Hugh Roberts said it was a “historic moment” for the zoo. “One usually says about a panda that he eats, shoots and leaves. In this case he eats, shoots and arrives,” he joked.

“It’s so wonderful now that they are actually here in Edinburgh at the zoo in Scotland. The Chinese premiere promised they would be here at the end of the year and they are – a Christmas present for Scotland.

“It’s truly a sign of friendship and marks the beginning of a 10 year relationship between the two countries.

“We see the pandas as catalysts for research, education and conservation – aimed at improving the future for pandas.”

The Giant Panda project is funded entirely from charitable donations from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and through sponsorship and it is hoped the scheme will offer opportunities in terms commercial and diplomatic relationships between China and the UK.

They are due to go on show for the first time on December 16 after they have acclimatised to their new surroundings.

Michael Moore said he and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were “jammy” to witness the arrival of the animals. “It’s a great honour to be here as the Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of the UK Government to welcome the giant pandas,” he said.

Miss Sturgeon added that the pandas would “help cement” a “very important” relationship” between China and Scotland. She added: “Today’s a very special day indeed for Scotland. The arrival of the pandas has really captured the public imagination. I know the Scottish people are looking forward to coming here to see the pandas. And I know we are all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the arrival of a little McPanda some time before long.”

The two pandas were given a breakfast of carrots and protein cake before passing through customs in China.

It is understood that the plane left China 10 minutes late, but made up time during the flight.

The pandas were said to be in good spirits during their 11 hour journey.

On board with them during the trip from China was a vet and two animal handlers from the zoo and Bifengxia Panda Base.

Sunshine and Sweetie were flown by a team of four pilots, all of whom donned kilts in honour of the journey from Chengdu in western China, to Scotland.

The animals’ new home, an enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo, was bathed in a light smattering of snow ahead of the arrival on Sunday morning.

Grey clouds were soon replaced by beaming winter sunshine before touchdown.

The pandas’ departure from China is the culmination of five years of campaigning by both the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the British Government.

The panda loan is for a decade, and will cost the zoo £600,000 a year.

Coupled with the £70,000-a-year cost of feeding them bamboo (most of it imported from Holland), plus the creation of a £250,000 enclosure, the total bill will near £8million.

However, Edinburgh Zoo says it expects to attract at least a million extra visitors over the decade, and at £15.50 for an adult ticket and family tickets between £33.70 and £57.60, it seems that the pandas will more than pay for themselves.

Online footage of the two animals, from four hidden “panda-cams” in their enclosures, is expected to attract visitors from around the world.

Zoo bosses are hopeful the pandas will one day give birth to cubs.

Just hours before the pandas arrived at the zoo Mr Roberts said: “It’s a perfect winter wonderland for us to welcome these two pandas. These are ideal conditions. Scotland’s the best home in the world for Pandas outside China.”

Mr Roberts said the both pandas had breeding experience. “I’m glad to say that Tian Tian, who is eight years old, has already had a pair of cubs and Yang Guang has already fathered cubs. They haven’t bred together, but they both have breeding experience and we have given them the right conditions here and will look after them in the right way to encourage them as much as we can.”

NO COMMENTS