Yang Guang and Tian Tian, the only two giant pandas in the UK based at Edinburgh Zoo, flew back to China after the expiration of the 12-year loan.
After 12 years, the two giant pandas flew back to China after the international breeding program failed to produce any cubs. Their original loan of 10 years got extended back in 2021 due to the zoo’s closure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandas flew from the capital’s airport earlier in the week on a China Southern Airlines Boeing 777F for the 13-hour journey to Chengdu, where they will return to the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
A completely private flight was arranged for the pandas’ safe journey back home, for the duration of the journey they were accompanied by the pandas’ head keeper, a Chinese keeper, an airline official, and a veterinarian.
Michael Livingstone, head keeper of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo:
“It’s an emotional day for us keepers that have been fortunate enough to care for Yang Guang and Tian Tian over the years.
“It has been the highlight of my career to work this amazing species and I will definitely miss them. I’m lucky enough to be travelling 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.”
The flight was equipped with plenty of snacks for Yang Guang and Tian Tian, including a mountain of bamboo as well as carrots, apples, and other snacks. As well as snacks on board to ensure the panda’s had a comfortable journey the zoo’s very own blacksmith built two bespoke crates so passengers on board could monitor them during the flight.
According to the BBC, the panda’s head keeper from Edinburgh Zoo handed over the keys of Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s crates to the Chinese keeper halfway through the flight to mark the official end time as the UK’s only giant pandas.
AIA’s team were honoured to be asked by China Southern Airlines to attend the major event at Edinburgh Airport: “To observe the highly-specialised operation from landside arrival through to take off will be a career highlight I’ll look back on for many years to come. I am thankful to our esteemed partners at China Southern Cargo for granting my attendance to witness Tian Tian, & Yang Guang’s return home.” – Aaron Bennett, Sales Executive – Northern England & Scotland.