Edinburgh Zoo hoping to have giant panda lease extended by summer

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EDINBURGH Zoo is hoping to extend the lease on their giant pandas by summer.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said they “very much” wish to extend the ten year agreement with China – which is due to end in December this year.

The zoo had hoped that during their stay Tian Tian and Yang Guang would breed and welcome giant panda cubs to Scotland.

Earlier this month Tian Tian was artificially inseminated for the eighth time using semen flown across from China after failing to breed naturally with Yang Guang.

Edinburgh hope to extend Panda lease FOI shows - Scottish News
Pictured: Yang Guang

Despite Tian Tian coming to the end of her reproductive life and Yang Guang being infertile due to treatment for testicular cancer, the zoo is hoping to keep hold of the pair for longer.

The zoo had been considering sending the popular duo – who cost around £1m per year to lease – back to China due to financial pressures after losing £2m last year.

But emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request have today (TUE) revealed how the zoo is now hoping to have an extension agreed by June.

Email exchanges between RZSS and the Scottish Government state that China is wanting RZSS to visit their country by early summer to negotiate the extension.

One email from the RZSS’s Director of Engagement to the Scottish Government, dated January 15 2021, reads: “As we discussed, Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas potentially having to return to China at the end of 2021 is a concern.

“We very much want to extend the agreement and understand the pandas remaining in Scotland is also of interest to a wide range of stakeholders.

Edinburgh hope to extend Panda lease FOI shows - Scottish News
Pictured: Yang Guang

“We are talking with the UK Government as well as the Scottish Government Office in China – and of course our partners at the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association.

“You mentioned that the Cabinet Secretary may be able to raise this with counterparts in the UK Government, which would be very helpful.

“…Our exit surveys have consistently shown the pandas to be the favourite animal among our visitors.”

David Field, the society’s chief executive, stated in an email that any new extension should be agreed by June.

The email, dated 13 January, read: “The agreement was signed in January 2011 but the effective end is December 2021.

“Any new extension should be agreed by June 2021.”

Another email shows how members of the RZSS, Scotland Office, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and other Scottish Government officials attended a meeting on 17 February to discuss the future of the pandas.

Edinburgh hope to extend Panda lease FOI shows - Scottish News
Pictured: Tian Tian

The emails state: “CEO of RZSS said panda loans have to be signed off at a high level in the Chinese/UK governments, and the contract terms vary from country to country/zoo to zoo.

“Under the current contract, RZSS makes a payment to the CWCA (China Wildlife Conservation Association) for panda conservation conservation in China. It’s not a lease payment – it is a payment to the panda protection fund.

“Throughout the period of the contract term, Edinburgh zoo has undertaken a significant amount of research, the value of which has not been fully recognised in either the contract, nor in the evaluation of the project.

“If this were to be taken into account, the zoo would hope that Chinese partners could trade that off against the payment to the panda protection fund.

“FCO staff agreed that other likely governments (e.g. US, West European) have varied deals and that it is very difficult to get official lines on positions or contract terms…

“China wants the RZSS to visit China to negotiate extension in early summer.”

Giant pandas are renowned as being one of the biggest crowd pullers in zoos across the world.

The two giant pandas arrived in Scotland in December 2011 and are rented by Edinburgh Zoo from the Chinese government for ten years.

It costs around £1m a year to lease a mating pair.

Edinburgh hope to extend Panda lease FOI shows - Scottish News
Pictured: Tian Tian

Tian Tian had previously given birth to twins in China but all attempts to produce a cub at Edinburgh Zoo have failed.

Earlier this month, zoo chiefs revealed how they had artificially inseminated Tian Tian with semen from male panda, Hualong from the China Conservation and Research Centre.

The zoo will only know for certain if Tian Tian is pregnant if she gives birth later this year.

Inseminating Tian Tian is said to be a “critical part of the giant panda international breeding programme” as there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas left in the wild.

Animal rights campaigners have accused the zoo of being more focussed on making money than the panda’s welfare.

Animal rights campaigners today hit out at RZSS for trying to extend the giant pandas time at the zoo.

OneKind campaigner, Eve Massie, today said: “OneKind has never been supportive of the panda breeding programme at Edinburgh Zoo and so we were deeply concerned to learn that The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is hoping to extend its ten year ‘lease’ of the pandas.

“If the ‘lease’ is extended, Tian Tian will likely continue to be subjected to procedures that cannot be said to be in her best interests.

“There is no good reason to keep wild animals captive in zoos.”

PETA’s Director of Corporate Projects Yvonne Taylor commented: “Pandas are not breeding machines but individuals, and they should not be sexually assaulted to produce babies for human amusement and display.

“Artificial insemination is a highly stressful procedure for these animals, and even if Tian Tian were to get pregnant – insemination has failed countless times already – her cub runs the risk of being born with severe deformities or dying after just a few days.

“If Edinburgh Zoo genuinely cared about this much-loved species, its funds would be directed towards habitat conservation rather than perpetuating the cruel cycle of captive breeding.”

David Field, CEO at RZSS, today said:“I would love for them to be able to stay for a few more years with us and that is certainly my current aim.

“We are discussing next steps with our colleagues in China. At this stage, it is too soon to say what the outcome will be.”