Powered by Blogger.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Two very pampered celebrities: They'll get through £70,000 of bamboo a year and live in luxury suites costing £275,000 a year to rent

-Arrival of pair hailed as 'significant chapter' in relationship between China and the UK
-The pair are first giant pandas to arrive in Britain for nearly 20 years
-They will live at Edinburgh Zoo for at least a decade
-Deputy PM Nick Clegg says he is 'delighted' by their arrival

By John Naish

The first giant pandas to arrive in Britain for 17 years touched down at Edinburgh Zoo yesterday after an 11-hour flight from China on a specially-chartered jet. Now, as Sunshine and Sweetie settle into their luxury enclosure and eager fans clamour to see them, hopes are high they could produce the first ever panda cub born on British soil. Here, JOHN NAISH looks at what lies in store for these very special creatures . . .

Scroll down for video

Safe landing: Chinese panda Yang Guang arrives at Edinburgh Airport yesterday afternoon on a specially chartered flight

A pair of international celebrities completed their much-anticipated move to Edinburgh last night, where they are now occupying £275,000 suites and having their organic food flown in from the Continent.

They were met on Scottish soil by photographers, dignitaries and crowds of flag-waving locals clamouring for a glimpse of them. Earlier this week, a website selling tickets to see the pair crashed due to the demand.

But, in a departure from the usual celebrity script, the new arrivals are a pair of giant pandas.

Peering out: The panda named Tian Tian is unloaded from a plane at Edinburgh Airport. The pair are the first giant pandas to arrive in the UK for more than 17 years

Sunshine, left, and Sweetie, right, settle in at Edinburgh Zoo. They arrived at the zoo from a conservation centre in Sichuan, China, on a private Boeing 777F flight dubbed the ‘FedEx Panda Express’

Yesterday, female Tian Tian (meaning Sweetie) and male Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrived in Edinburgh Zoo from a conservation centre in Sichuan, China, on a private Boeing 777F flight dubbed the ‘FedEx Panda Express’, along with a vet and two animal handlers.

They are on loan from China for the next ten years. Bagpipes played as the bears were carried carefully from the aircraft in individual crates, each labelled ‘one panda’ and taken to Edinburgh Zoo.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been put in enclosures designed by animal psychologists, which come complete with dens, private pools, a viewing platform and a room where the pandas will be given health check-ups.

The new arrivals are unloaded from their Panda Express plane following an 11-hour journey from China

New home: Yang Guang is unloaded from the freight aircraft by two FedEx staff members

Welcome: People waited with anticipation to receive Tian Tian and and Yang Guang as their plane touched down

The enclosure also has a specially built ‘love tunnel’ where the two can meet if they are feeling amorous, and a nursery for any offspring. Zoo bosses believe the pandas will attract more than a million extra visitors, and a baby panda would see numbers boom even further - although any cubs would be the property of China.

Already there is eager adulation from the panda-mad public. Earlier this week, the zoo’s ticket website was unable to cope with the ‘sheer influx’ of people trying to book tickets and crashed.

But then this pair are rare treasures: these are the first pandas in the UK for 17 years, since London Zoo hosted Bao Bao and Ming Ming in the early Nineties.

And the bears will need to be popular in order to fund their keep. The zoo is paying the Chinese around £636,000 a year for the privilege of having them. It also needs to buy them £70,000 worth of bamboo a year.

The bears will now have a fortnight to settle in before being put on show to the public. Although they have come as a pair, they will have separate rooms as solitary pandas only meet to mate once a year.

Excited: A youngster wore a panda hat and joined hundreds of other well-wishers to catch a first sighting of the giant bears at the airport

Their new living quarters are five-star. The animals love to clamber, so each has a climbing frame that will enable them to see each other over the tops of their enclosures.

The animal psychologists also designed the accommodation to simulate their natural habitat. Small caves are intended as outdoor bedrooms. There are his ’n’ hers ponds and shaped rocks that act like panda-recliners, so they can lie back to chew on their bamboo.

Alison Maclean, the pandas’ head-keeper, is delighted with the enclosure’s design. ‘It’s perfect,’ she says. ‘The visitors have huge viewing panels, both looking into the interior and exterior of the enclosures. It’s virtually soundproof, so the pandas won’t get disturbed.’

Pandas spend much of their time munching - as much as 14 hours a day chewing bamboo. Each year, they will eat up to 18,000kg (over 39,000lb) of the stuff - around 20 three-metre stems a day. This is no ordinary bamboo, either. Most of it will be imported from a specialist organic grower on a plantation just outside Amsterdam.

After all, you don’t want to let pandas get hungry. They can get very bearish. In 2009, for example, a giant panda killed eight sheep in a village near a nature reserve in Leshan in China.

First sight: Chinese panda Yang Guang at Edinburgh Airport

Arrival: Giant pandas Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrive at Edinburgh Airport on the FedEx Panda Express

Touch down: The FedEx Panda Express lands at Edinburgh Airport

In captivity, they have been known to maul humans. Even when well-fed, pandas are not completely herbivore. Around one per cent of their diet is carnivore — popular snacks are rats, mice and insects.

The one mod-con the pandas should not need is climate control. The weather in Edinburgh is very similar to that of their native Sichuan Province.

With all the right conditions, Edinburgh’s zoo keepers hope that the pampered pandas will be in the mood for love.

The conservation purpose of their decade-long stay is to produce offspring that can be returned to the wild.

Ten years is a significant proportion of a captive panda’s lifespan: they are normally expected to live for 30 years. Both are now eight.

Hopes are high that their stay will prove fruitful: Tian Tian and Yang Guang have both successfully mated before, but with other partners. While pandas are notoriously difficult to mate in captivity, Tian Tian and Yang Guang are said to stand a better chance than most of producing young. The ‘boisterous’ male, Yang Guang, is said to be better endowed than the average panda. He has already sired a string of cubs in the Ya’an reserve in China, where both pandas were born and raised.

And although Tian Tian, has been described as ‘a very quiet and nervous character’, she has given birth to two cubs.

Through the keyhole: Yang Guang is seen eating bamboo branches through a whole of the FedEx container transporting the pair to Edinburgh

Nervous flyer? Yang Guang is fed with apples in the minutes before being loaded onto the plane to Scotland

Heavy load: Giant panda Yang Guang is hauled onto the plane at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, ready for his trip to Scotland

Special delivery: The FedEx Panda Express has special livery for the flight

Hugh Roberts, chief executive of the Scottish zoological society, said he was ‘very confident’ the pandas would become the first in Britain to breed naturally. ‘They both know what to do and that’s a start,’ he said. ‘I don’t think Yang Guang’s sexual prowess is in doubt.’

Nevertheless, the last British attempt ended in an acrimonious divorce: London Zoo’s Bao Bao and Ming Ming fought savagely and had to be separated. Bao Bao was sent to Berlin Zoo in 1993 and Ming Ming returned to China in 1994.

Their predecessors had fared little better. In 1974, the Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, attempted to lighten the gloom of a Britain struck by economic crisis by bringing over Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching, in what was considered a coup of ‘panda diplomacy’ with the Communist regime.

But although the pair were loved by visitors to London Zoo, they didn’t seem to love each other, and were cubless to the end.

Loaded up: Tian Tian sat peacefully in a cage, before being taken to the airport

Pandas’ problems are exacerbated by the female’s very short period of fertility.
Jennifer Butler, a spokeswoman for Edinburgh zoo, says: ‘They only have a period of three days a year when the female is receptive. Within this, there is only a window of between 24 and 48 hours when she is fertile.’

Worse still, male pandas can prove lackadaisical. In 2007, keepers at Northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai Zoo resorted to sitting a male called Chuang Chuang in front of a TV showing raunchy videos of bears mating in an attempt to spark his interest. The chief veterinarian, Kanika Limtrakul, was disappointed to admit ‘Chuang Chuang seemed indifferent’ to the films.

If Edinburgh does hit the panda cub jackpot, then it would prove a welcome boost to conservation efforts: there are as few as 1,600 giant pandas in central China.

Farewell party: A Chinese woman sees off the pandas, who will have an extended stay in Edinburgh

Fragile cargo: The bears are loaded into special crates before boarding a plane heading for Edinburgh

Not everyone is a supporter, however. Chris Packham, the BBC wildlife presenter, has said pandas should be allowed to die out and the money spent on conserving them should go on other species. His words outraged the Chinese and threatened the loan deal for Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

But if a rare cub is produced, Edinburgh can expect an unprecedented frenzy because there is something about these creatures that pulls the heart strings. For example, a video on YouTube entitled Baby Panda Sneezing has been viewed 190 million times.

If such an adorable creature were to be born in Edinburgh, the visitor bonus to the nation would certainly not be worth sneezing at.

Bring me Sunshine: Giant pandas Sweetie and Sunshine arrived in Scotland after a 5,000-mile journey from China

Bulking up: Sunshine pictured tucking into some bamboo in his enclosure before embarking on his journey

Going the distance: Sweetie and her mate Sunshine will be the first pandas to live in the UK for 20 years



Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Top Web Hosting | manhattan lasik | websites for accountants