Chinese panda pair arrive at Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo

Updated: 2011-12-05 07:59

By Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)

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Bagpipe player welcomes duo from Sichuan in traditional style

LONDON - Two Chinese pandas arrived to a traditional Scottish welcome of bagpipes as they arrived at Edinburgh Zoo on Sunday.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang, born in 2003, made the long journey on board a special chartered flight, known as the "FedEx Panda Express", from the Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center in Sichuan province.

After landing safely at Edinburgh Airport at around 1:00 pm (local time), the pair made their way to their new home - Edinburgh Zoo - accompanied by a police escort.

Amid the sound of bagpipes and huge excitement, they received a VIP (Very Important Panda) welcome from a group of local and Chinese dignitaries, as well as local children and their parents.

The pandas will go on public display from Dec 16, following a series of private viewings for zoo staff and members of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

"Most of our professional animal keepers will be a part of the team looking after the pandas," Edinburgh Zoo Chief Executive Hugh Roberts told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

Considering the pandas' rather exacting dietary requirements, Roberts said, "We imported some bamboo which the pandas in other zoos in Europe are also using."

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the first giant pandas to live in the United Kingdom in 17 years.

Their arrival has attracted many people. Roberts said that more than 2,000 tickets have so far been sold to people who want to see the pandas.

David Japp from Arbroath, Scotland, told China Daily: "I heard the panda news a couple weeks ago, and I'm so excited. We will definitely visit them. It's great to have them in Scotland."

Edinburgh Zoo has made full preparations for the expected influx of visitors.

"We have 15 staff to look after the visitors. They will be called the Panda Team, and they will be there to help visitors understand pandas," Roberts said.

"We're hoping for 400,000 visitors over the next year," Roberts said.

Online footage of the two animals, from four hidden "panda-cams" in their enclosures, is expected to attract viewers around the world.

"Our 'panda-cams' will provide an easily accessible medium for people across the world to watch, in close-up, one of the world's most endearing creatures," Roberts added.

Zoo bosses are hopeful that the pandas will give birth to cubs - the first to be born in Scotland. "That will be so wonderful," Roberts added.

The pandas were given to the United Kingdom as a gift from China during a visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang in January. They will live in Edinburgh Zoo for 10 years under the care of the RZSS.

Si Si in Edinburgh contributed to this story.