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UK’s only giant pandas enjoy in-flight meal as bamboo is loaded onto their plane ahead of long journey back home to China after 12 years of failing to mate in Scotland

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After 12 years of failing to mate in Scotland, the UK’s only giant pandas are in a plane on their way back to China – and are being given the First Class experience with their own in-flight meal of fresh bamboo.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement, which was extended by two years, between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. 

The pandas return to China having failed to breed since arriving in the Scottish capital, despite several failed attempts and pregnancies for Tian Tian. 

Crates of leaves were seen being loaded onto the China Southern cargo plane prior to the departure of the pair this afternoon.

Visitors said their goodbyes to the bears on Thursday, November 30, with the zoo then beginning preparations for them to return to the China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu. 

The base, founded in 1987, is world-class research facility, conservation education center, and international educational tourism destination’, winning the Global 500 Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement, the UN’s highest environmental award, twice. 

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The two pandas, named Yang Guang (pictured) and Tian Tian, came to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association

Crates of leaves were seen being loaded onto the China Southern cargo plane prior to the departure of Yang Guang and Tian Tian later today

Crates of leaves were seen being loaded onto the China Southern cargo plane prior to the departure of Yang Guang and Tian Tian later today

The bamboo leaves will serve as a tasty in-flight menu for the panda pair during the long flight home

The bamboo leaves will serve as a tasty in-flight menu for the panda pair during the long flight home 

More cargo being loaded onto the Boeing 777F plane

More cargo being loaded onto the Boeing 777F plane  

The 13-hour flight will have a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) keeper and vet, a Chinese keeper and airline official sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, while the rest of the seats have been taken out of the specially chartered China Southern plane

The 13-hour flight will have a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) keeper and vet, a Chinese keeper and airline official sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, while the rest of the seats have been taken out of the specially chartered China Southern plane

Covering more than three square kilometers, the base has several luxury panda ‘villas’ tucked into the mountains and forests, allowing the bears to live together in the region with countless trees, streams and bamboo plants, as well as over 700 species of plants and animals. 

‘Perhaps Tian Tian would not have swiped right on Tinder’: How the pandas failed to mate despite a decade of trying

Yang Guang and Tian Tian appeared a perfect match when they arrived in Edinburgh from China in 2011.

But for more than a decade the pair have failed to click and produce the offspring that zoologists and vets desperately hoped for upon their arrival in Scotland.

Efforts for them to breed naturally didn’t come to fruition and since 2013, the zoo has tried artificial insemination some eight times.

The last attempt was in 2021, after which the giant panda breeding programme was stopped.

David Field, the chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), even joked that the pair would have struggled to match on Tinder, saying that ‘perhaps Tian Tian would not have swiped right’, such was their reluctance to be together.

Experts say is very difficult to tell if a panda is pregnant as foetuses tend not to develop much in the uterus.

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A panda’s abdomen has lots of complicated parts and bowels filled with food that may make it hard for vets to see what they are looking for.  

Tian Tian

Tian Tian

To take the pandas to their new home, Edinburgh Zoo’s blacksmith Rab Clark has constructed two bespoke metal crates complete with sliding padlock doors, pee trays and removable screens so the keepers can check on them during the flight to Sichuan.

The crates are 190cm long, 146cm high and 127cm wide, which the bears have been getting used to in the last few weeks. 

Mr Clark told BBC News: ‘Although they look small, there’s actually quite a bit of room for them inside, it’s not tight.

‘The keepers tell me what they’re looking for and what’s required so we work as a team to see what’s best for the animal. 

‘I think they’ll be fine. I’m sure they’ll have a safe journey.’

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The pandas have been in quarantine since the start of November and will also spend time in quarantine when they arrive in China to comply with animal health regulations. 

The two bears have regular vet checks, including blood and faecal sampling, to ensure they are healthy and do not take any disease into China. 

A low-loader transporter has been hired to transfer the pandas from the zoo to Edinburgh Airport, which left this morning. The pandas are usually late risers, so staff at the zoo had been gradually bringing forward their wake-up time to get them used to earlier starts. 

The exact time was kept secret to reduce the chance of disruption from crowds of well-wishers or protest groups, as many feel the zoo should never have taken the pandas in the first place.

The panda crates will be loaded in by fork lift at stand 12 by Edinburgh Airport’s terminal building. 

The 13-hour flight will have a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) keeper and vet, a Chinese keeper and airline official sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, while the rest of the seats have been taken out of the specially chartered China Southern plane. 

The pandas will have health checks, food and water during the flight but the humans on board will have to heat up their own meals in the on-board microwave because there will be no cabin crew. 

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The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu, founded in 1987, claims to be a 'world-class research facility, conservation education center, and international educational tourism destination'

The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu, founded in 1987, claims to be a ‘world-class research facility, conservation education center, and international educational tourism destination’

The pandas eating on their final day in Scotland, they will leave the UK having failed to breed in their 12 years on these shores

The pandas eating on their final day in Scotland, they will leave the UK having failed to breed in their 12 years on these shores  

To take the pandas to their new home, Edinburgh Zoo's blacksmith Rab Clark has constructed two bespoke metal crates complete with sliding padlock doors, pee trays and removable screens

To take the pandas to their new home, Edinburgh Zoo’s blacksmith Rab Clark has constructed two bespoke metal crates complete with sliding padlock doors, pee trays and removable screens

The pandas will have health checks, food and water during the flight but the humans on board will have to heat up their own meals in the on-board microwave because there will be no cabin crew

The pandas will have health checks, food and water during the flight but the humans on board will have to heat up their own meals in the on-board microwave because there will be no cabin crew

Visitors said their goodbyes to the bears on Thursday, November 30, with the zoo then beginning preparations for them to return to the China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu

Visitors said their goodbyes to the bears on Thursday, November 30, with the zoo then beginning preparations for them to return to the China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is 10 km away from the city center (Tianfu Square)

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is 10 km away from the city center (Tianfu Square)

The Panda Base wears its title as the sanctuary for giant pandas, red pandas, and other endangered wild animals exclusive to China

The Panda Base wears its title as the sanctuary for giant pandas, red pandas, and other endangered wild animals exclusive to China

Giant Pandas: The excellent tree climbers considered a national treasure in China

The panda, with its distinctive black and white coat, is adored by the world and considered a national treasure in China. 

Pandas live mainly in temperate forests high in the mountains of southwest China, where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo. 

They must eat around 26 to 84 pounds of it every day, depending on what part of the bamboo they are eating. 

They use their enlarged wrist bones that function as opposable thumbs.

A newborn panda is about the size of a stick of butter—about 1/900th the size of its mother—but females can grow up to about 200 pounds, while males can grow up to about 300 pounds as adults. 

The bears are excellent tree climbers despite their bulk.

Source: WWF 

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The RZSS keeper Michael Livingstone will give the pandas crate keys to the Chinese keeper and the pandas then become the responsibility of the Chinese, before they are placed in quarantine again. 

RZSS staff are planning to visit Yang Guang and Tian Tian next year to check in on them. 

The pandas return to China having failed to breed since arriving in Scotland more than 12 years ago. 

Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, David Field, said it was ‘hugely disappointing’ not to be greeted with a baby panda. 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Field said:  ‘It’s hugely disappointing. Baby pandas are just beautiful. They are exquisite, they are endearing, they are glorious.

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‘They are one of the most fantastic ambassadors for people falling back in love with nature.

‘I think the biggest disappointment has been for Tian Tian, because that maternal cycle is really important for them as part of their natural behavioural repertoire – everything from all the hormonal cycles to the nest building to rearing.

‘Sometimes animals just don’t get on. Genetically they were apparently an extremely good match but behaviourally, if it was Tinder, perhaps Tian Tian wouldn’t have swiped right if she had the choice.

‘They are hugely emblematic, they are iconic for conservation and they make people smile with sheer abandonment.’

Edinburgh Zoo is set to be replacing the pandas with another ‘exciting’ species, which has not yet been revealed. 

The crates are 190cm long, 146cm high and 127cm wide, which the bears have been getting used to in the last few weeks

The crates are 190cm long, 146cm high and 127cm wide, which the bears have been getting used to in the last few weeks

The pandas have been in quarantine since the start of November and will also spend time in quarantine when they arrive in China to comply with animal health regulations

The pandas have been in quarantine since the start of November and will also spend time in quarantine when they arrive in China to comply with animal health regulations

The two bears have regular vet checks, including blood and faecal sampling, to ensure they are healthy and do not take any disease into China

The two bears have regular vet checks, including blood and faecal sampling, to ensure they are healthy and do not take any disease into China

The panda crates will be loaded in by fork lift at stand 12 by Edinburgh Airport's terminal building

The panda crates will be loaded in by fork lift at stand 12 by Edinburgh Airport’s terminal building

The exact time of the panda's flights were kept secret to reduce the chance of disruption from crowds of well-wishers or protest groups, as many feel the Zoo should never have had the animals in the first place

The exact time of the panda’s flights were kept secret to reduce the chance of disruption from crowds of well-wishers or protest groups, as many feel the Zoo should never have had the animals in the first place 

Covering more than three square kilometers, the new base has several luxury panda 'villas' are tucked into the mountains and forests, allowing the bears to live together in the region with countless trees, streams and bamboo plants

Covering more than three square kilometers, the new base has several luxury panda ‘villas’ are tucked into the mountains and forests, allowing the bears to live together in the region with countless trees, streams and bamboo plants

The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu has won the Global 500 Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement, the UN's highest environmental award, twice.

The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu has won the Global 500 Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement, the UN’s highest environmental award, twice.

The panda, with its distinctive black and white coat, is considered a national treasure in China. 

They live mainly in temperate forests high in the mountains of southwest China, where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo. 

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They must eat around 26 to 84 pounds of it every day, depending on what part of the bamboo they are eating. 

They use their enlarged wrist bones that function as opposable thumbs.

A newborn panda is about the size of a stick of butter—about 1/900th the size of its mother—but females can grow up to about 200 pounds, while males can grow up to about 300 pounds as adults. 

The bears are excellent tree climbers despite their bulk.

Source: Daily Mail

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