Edinburgh Zoo witnessed a poignant moment as visitors said their final farewells to Yang Guang and Tian Tian, the cherished giant pandas, who are set to return to China after a memorable 12-year sojourn in Scotland.
The duo, who arrived in 2011 to much fanfare, captivated hearts and drew crowds, marking a significant chapter in the zoo’s history. Their imminent departure in early December marks the end of an era, as they were the sole giant pandas in the U.K.
Their return follows a trend of pandas leaving Western zoos, with similar instances in the U.S., including Atlanta, Washington, San Diego, and Memphis. This shift has sparked speculation about China’s motives amidst international tensions, although recent statements by Chinese President Xi Jinping suggest a willingness to continue panda loans to American zoos.
Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s presence in Scotland has been more than just an attraction; their stay has significantly raised awareness about conservation issues. Despite unsuccessful breeding attempts, the zoo acknowledges its impact on promoting awareness of the global biodiversity crisis.
David Field, CEO of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, emphasized the pandas’ role in inspiring millions to care about nature. The increased attention on their departure has been leveraged to highlight the zoo’s conservation efforts and the broader ecological emergency.
Initially part of a 10-year loan from the China Wildlife Conservation Association, their stay was extended for two additional years. The zoo is now preparing for the pandas’ return, closing their exhibit to the public to facilitate their transition back to China.