UK’s only giant pandas set off for home



The United Kingdom’s only giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, headed back to China on Monday at the end of their 12-year stay at Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo.

They left Edinburgh Airport in two bespoke metal crates aboard a cargo plane operated by China Southern Airlines.

A keeper and a vet from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, or RZSS, the conservation charity that owns and manages Edinburgh Zoo traveled with the pair, along with a Chinese keeper and a supply of bamboo that Yang Guang and Tian Tian will eat during the journey, the BBC reported on Monday.

The broadcaster also said the pair are scheduled to land in Southwest China’s Sichuan province on Tuesday after their 13-hour flight and begin a month of quarantine at the Ya’an base of China Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center.

“It is an emotional day for us keepers that have been fortunate enough to care for Yang Guang and Tian Tian over the years,” said Michael Livingstone, a senior animal keeper at RZSS who is accompanying the pandas on their journey home. “Working with this amazing species has been the highlight of my career and I will definitely miss them. I’m lucky enough to be traveling on the plane with them to China, to help them settle in, and I think it will be nice for them to hear a familiar voice as they get used to their new home.”


YangGuang(left) and TianTianeat bamboo at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. (The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)

Yang Guang, whose name means sunshine, and Tian Tian, whose name translates to sweetie, arrived at the Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between RZSS and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The agreement was later extended by two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since launching the cooperation agreement for giant panda conservation and research in 2011, China and the UK have maintained a sound cooperative relationship and achieved positive outcomes in conservation and management, scientific research, technological exchange, and public education with regards to giant pandas, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Dec 1 during a regular news briefing.

“In the future, China stands ready to continue to strengthen cooperation with the UK and other international partners on the protection of endangered species and biodiversity and enhance the friendship between people in China and other countries in the world,” he said.