Sunday, December 4, 2011

And they're off! Pandas settle into airline crates ahead of 26 hour flight from China to Britain


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

The pair, whose names translate to Sweetie and Sunshine, are currently travelling on a Boeing 777F flight, along with a vet and two animal handlers.

Gerald P Leary, president of FedEx Express Europe, said there had been 'months of preparation and planning to ensure the pandas' travel is safe and comfortable at every stage of their journey'.

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

The first giant pandas to arrive in Britain for nearly 20 years will today jet into Edinburgh - after years of diplomatic negotiations.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang will arrive at the city's zoo at 1pm, following a gruelling 26-hour journey on board a specially-chartered FedEx Panda Express flight from south-west China.

The eight-year-old breeding pair will then be taken to their new £300,000 enclosure where they will stay for at least 10 years.

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

Pipers will play as the bears arrive at the zoo, where they will be welcomed by dignitaries representing China, the UK, Scotland and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

The pandas will have two weeks to settle in to their new surroundings before going on display to the public.

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

The pair will be kept under a strict six-month quarantine, with keepers wearing protective suits and being trained in avoiding bites, amid concerns the pandas could be carrying rabies.

Their arrival marks the culmination of a five-year effort to bring the giant pandas to Scotland.

Princess Anne, Prime Ministers David Cameron and Gordon Brown and First Minister Alex Salmond were all involved before China agreed to loan the pandas to Edinburgh Zoo for ten years.

It is 17 years since the UK’s last giant panda, Ming Ming, left London Zoo to return to China.

Zoo chiefs have described it as a 'historic occasion' for the visitor attraction and the UK as a whole. Tourism body VisitScotland welcomed their impending arrival.

A spokeswoman said: 'The zoo is offering a unique opportunity to see these charming animals, helping to encourage increased visitor numbers to Edinburgh and Scotland.'

Farewell party: A Chinese woman sees off the pandas, who are on their way to Edinburgh for an extended stay

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

The pair were born in 2003 and lived at the Ya'an reserve in Chengdu, China. During their time in Edinburgh, they will be in the care of the RZSS.

Online footage of the two animals, from four hidden 'panda-cams' in their enclosures, is expected to attract viewers from around the world. Zoo bosses are hopeful that the pandas will give birth to cubs.

The Scottish Government has said the loan of the pandas symbolises a 'growing friendship' between Scotland and China.

First Minister Alex Salmond, who is currently in China, will thank the Chinese vice premier, Li Keqiang, in a meeting in Beijing tomorrow.

Mr Salmond said: 'As panda-mania hits Scotland, and we extend a warm Scottish welcome to Tian Tian and Yang Guang, I am delighted to have the opportunity to personally thank the Chinese government and extend our thanks to vice premier Li Keqiang, who visited Edinburgh himself earlier this year.

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

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

'The great gift of these giant pandas symbolises the great and growing relationship between Scotland and China which we will take further forward tomorrow when vice premier Li and I meet and discuss Scotland and China's business, cultural and diplomatic links which are growing ever stronger to the benefit of both nations.'

Mr Salmond wants to strengthen ties between the governments and forge better cultural and business links during his trip to several mainland cities and Hong Kong.

However animal welfare campaigners have criticised the pandas' move to Scotland, suggesting it was not a credible way to go about saving the species.

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

A spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said: 'Edinburgh Zoo is putting the 'con' in conservation by trying to hoodwink the public into believing that the salvation of pandas lies in warehousing these sensitive animals.'

Chris Draper, of the Born Free Foundation, said the panda deal was a 'short-sighted and retrograde step'.

Edinburgh Zoo’s computers crashed almost as soon as the pandas’ arrival was announced last week.

A spokesman said: ‘We have had tremendous interest and expect ticket sales to soar when the pandas are actually here.’

source: dailymail

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