Edinburgh Zoo gives Britons chance to say final goodbye to giant pandas before last in UK disappear

Members of the public view Yang Guang, the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo

The UK will be without pandas for the first time in more than 50 years

Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 17/11/2023

- 12:43

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are set to return to China before the new year

Edinburgh Zoo announces that animal lovers have just two weeks to say goodbye to the UK’s only giant pandas.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are set to return to China after living in Edinburgh Zoo since 2011.

From November 30 onwards, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has announced that it will be restricting access to the giant pandas.

The exact date of the pair’s departure has not been disclosed, however when they leave, the UK will be without pandas for the first time in more than 50 years.

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David Field, RZSS chief executive, said, “With more than a million species at risk of extinction and our natural world in crisis, Yang Guang and Tian Tian have had an incredible impact by inspiring millions of people to care about nature.

“That added interest in the panda's departure this year has allowed us to connect many more people with the conservation causes that RZSS is actively involved with, and with nature more generally.”

He added: “Through scientific research by our expert veterinary and keeper teams, working alongside the University of Edinburgh, we have made a significant contribution to our understanding around giant panda fertility, husbandry, and veterinary care - which has been of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China.

“It is encouraging that in recent years the outlook for giant pandas in the wild has improved, which gives real hope for the future.”


Tian Tian sleeps in her enclosure at Edinburgh ZooTian Tian sleeps in her enclosure at Edinburgh ZooPA

Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrived in Scotland as part of a 10-year agreement between RZSS and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

The deal was later extended by two years.

Edinburgh Zoo have paid £750,000 a year to China for the loan of the animals, however the loan has not been extended any further.

The UK will not be the only country without pandas.

In the US, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their three-year-old male cub, Xiao Qi Ji — were sent back to China last week.

Only four pandas, who are in Atlanta, will remain in the US.

However, the loan agreement for the remaining endangered animals is due to expire next year.

In Australia, officials are negotiating the extension of their loan agreement of two pandas housed in Adelaide Zoo, which is also due to end next year.

If none of the loans are renewed, all three countries could be panda-less by 2024.

\u200bTian Tian

Tian Tian (pictured) will be returned to China by the end of the year


The move appears to mark the end of China’s panda diplomacy, a practice where the country loans other nations the animals for a period of 10 years.

The policy has seen the endangered animals loaned to zoos across the world in hopes of boosting inter-governmental relations.

“From a Chinese perspective, sharing the care of such a precious animal strengthens the bonds that China has with its ‘inner circle’ of countries,” Kathleen Buckingham from Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment said.

When a cub grows older, they are normally sent home, but a new panda is typically sent in their place.

However, this time, it is uncertain if Beijing will renew any of the loans.

The panda exodus comes as relations between China and the West have continued to sour, as the two disagree over a number of issues.

This includes disputes surrounding trade, technology, the status of Taiwan and China’s stance on the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Ukraine.

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