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Tian Tian and Yang Guang, two giant pandas, arrived in Edinburgh from China on Sunday. The two – whose names mean Sweetie and Sunshine in English – will be the first pandas in about 20 years to live in Britain. Following their flight from Chengdu airport, they were transferred to the Edinburgh Zoo, where they will stay for 10 years.
Officials hold out hope that the male and female pandas will one day breed. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is paying China almost one million dollars a year to have the pandas stay with them, not including the cost of imported bamboo. The last giant panda to live in Britain was housed at the London Zoo until 1994, when it was then transferred back to China.
Yang Guang, the male panda, inspected his new habitat and spent time in full view of the zoo keepers after his arrival. Tian Tian, the female panda, was more shy and stayed out of sight for the majority of the time. Television crews filmed the pandas while they were in their new homes, and the general public will be allowed to see them on Friday.
It took five years of negotiating with China to get the two pandas on loan. They will stay in Edinburgh until 2021, then return to China, along with any cubs they might have bred together. The loan will benefit both China and Edinburgh Zoo. While Edinburgh Zoo may be paying China close to a million dollars to keep the pandas, they figure the increase in paying visitors will cover the cost.
Hugh Roberts, the zoo’s chief executive, thinks that interest in the pandas will grow and might increase the number of visitors to the zoo by 70 percent within the first year. While most people are excited about the new pandas’ arrival, there have been some dissenting voices that believe that the transfer is commercial and does not concern conservation.
Others think the potential failure of the pandas breeding together will contribute to the zoo losing money. The zoo answered both complaints and said they are part of an international conservation effort. Pandas have been around for about two or three million years and are, therefore, living fossils. It is believed that they are close to extinction because they are on the path to an evolutionary dead-end.
Giant pandas are almost completely dependent on bamboo for their diet, and the forests that contain bamboo continue to decrease in size. However, there are now more than 40 Chinese panda reserves in existence. They have strengthened the number of giant pandas that live in captivity to 300, and another 1,600 still live in the wild. Giant pandas have been brought back from the brink of extinction, but their numbers in their natural habitat still need to increase.