Yang Guang, the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo

78 – Pandas arrive at Edinburgh Zoo

December 4, 2011

THEIR cuddly appearance and cute cubs make giant pandas instantly recognisable.

The endangered species has long been a symbol of conservation but it has also become an international token of good faith.

China – where giant pandas originate – is famous for using the animals as diplomatic gifts.

So, it was a significant gesture when the country gifted a breeding pair to Edinburgh Zoo.

Female Tian Tian and male Yang Guang, whose names mean Sweetie and Sunshine, touched down at Edinburgh Airport following an 11-hour flight from China.

Their arrival marked the end of more than four years of negotiations between Chinese authorities and the zoo.

The political wrangling also involved politicians, from First Minister Alex Salmond to UK prime ministers – and even the Princess Royal.

The pandas were gifted to Edinburgh Zoo for 10 years as part of a deal between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

The Scottish Government claimed the pandas would boost “research, conservation and tourism” in Scotland and Britain.

They were the first pandas in a British zoo since London Zoo’s panda Ming Ming returned to China in 1994.

Edinburgh Zoo has made attempts to persuade the two to produce a wee baby panda for us to coo over, but so far we haven’t heard the pitter-patter of tiny paws.

Even without cubs, it’s estimated the pandas will generate around £28 million for the Edinburgh economy during their 10-year stay, with an additional £19m being spent in the wider Scottish economy.

It’s all there in black and white.