KEEPERS at Edinburgh Zoo are expecting Scotland’s newly-acquired pandas to lay eyes on each other for the first time in the coming weeks.
The country’s most-watched couple, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, have yet to meet eyes as they settle in to their neighbouring enclosures.
If the first meeting goes well, it could be the start of an important journey which will end with the historic birth of a panda cub.
The pair were aware of each others’ presence during their flight over from China, with reports of the bears ‘vocalising’ on the nine-hour flight from China.
They have been exploring and ‘scent marking’ their new enclosures since their arrival on 6 December, but have yet to climb the shrubbery which will let them to see into the other’s area.
A mesh separates the outdoor parts of the enclosures, and the zoo says it will be entirely up to the pandas to decide when they will make their first eye contact.
The animals, who will be making their public debut on Friday, are notoriously hard to breed.
There has only been one captive birth of a panda cub before, and the animal later died after being reintroduced to the wild.
Panda handler Xie Hao, of Bifengxia Panda Centre in Sichuan, has helped the bears settle in to Scotland.
He said: “They did vocalise on the journey, which is a good thing.
“Although they will be in separate enclosures, which is how pandas like to live, they can still see each other when they want to and we can’t wait to see what happens.”
He said the pandas seemed to like the Scottish weather.
“In Ya’an, where they came from, at this time of year it’s generally rainy and cold, so Scotland couldn’t be a more perfect place for pandas.
“Ya’an literally means ‘the rainy city.’
His counterpart at Edinburgh Zoo Alison MacLean, who will be taking over care of the bears, said: “At the moment we are very much taking it at their pace and letting them settle in.
“The male has settled right down and has well and truly marked his house with his scent.
“The female was only seen scent marking for the first time yesterday she likes to take things much more slowly and gradually.
“They both like the bamboo we’ve provided and they are currently eating the imported stock.”
A spokeswoman for the Zoo said: “They will be outdoors more often now. When they first see each other will be completely up to them.
“They’ve not seen each other so far, but we hope they will in the next week or couple of weeks.
Edinburgh Zoo has brought in special ‘Panda Patrol’ staff to help deal with the surge in visitors when they go on public display on Friday .
The bears are in Scotland under a ten-year loan deal from the Chinese Government.
The deal is the result of years of negotiations between the zoo and the Chinese authorities.
Their enclosure, which had to be checked by inspectors from China, costs around £300,000.