It was quite a coup for the UK when two giant pandas arrived in Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011, after months of delicate negotiations with the Chinese government. The male and female pair is on loan to the Scottish capital for a period of 10 years, and are the only pandas currently in the UK. The hope is that at some point during their residency the two pandas will breed and produce a baby panda, further helping to protect the future of this endangered species.
What is the Price of a Panda?
The two pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, or Sunshine and Sweetie in English, are not as many people think, a gift to the UK people. The deal to bring them to the UK involved the not unsubstantial sum of $1 million per year as “rent” to the Chinese government. Edinburgh Zoo have also spent upwards of £250,000 building a state of the art new enclosure to house its star animals. However, the Zoo hopes to recoup the cost of the pandas through increased visitor numbers and early indications seem to show that visitors are flocking to the zoo to see them. Demand is such that a system of timed tickets to the panda enclosure is in operation.
Public reaction to the arrival of the pandas in the UK has been mainly positive, although critics of zoos in general have been vocal in their opinion that pandas should be kept in China rather than a European Zoo. China’s human rights record and lack of political freedom have led others to wonder why the relationship between the Scottish government and the Chinese appears to be so cordial and cosy. There is also the worry that by devoting such a large sum of money to the acquisition of the pandas, some of the other facilities and animals at Edinburgh Zoo may suffer.
The boost to Edinburgh Zoo’s reputation if the female panda produces a cub would be enormous, but breeding pandas is notoriously difficult. Pandas are only in season for a matter of hours each year, and getting the timing right is tricky. Keepers had hopes of an early pregnancy this year, but it seems that the opportunity has already passed.
The new panda enclosure at the zoo meant the redesigning of several other enclosures. Although the original penguin pen was kept the same, a new pathway was built leading to the panda enclosure. Visitors to the pandas at the end of 2011 found that the original penguin inhabitants of the zoo, who may have had their beaks put out of joint by the new Chinese arrivals stealing the limelight, were hitting queuing visitors with droppings as they waited to see the pandas. Penguins are curious birds, and could not resist the temptation of going to the wall of their pool area to see what everyone was doing on the walkway below. Edinburgh Zoo said they were considering installing a plastic or glass panel to protect the visitors from the unwanted penguin attention.
A cleaner version of Penguin is Original Penguin, an established fashion brand available from Jean Store.