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Panda diplomacy: How to see Edinburgh Zoo's giant pandas before they return to China

Giant panda Yang Guang plays in the snow at Edinburgh Zoo
Giant panda Yang Guang plays in the snow at Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo visitors have been catching the last glimpses of the famous giant pandas before they are sent back to China.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrived in Scotland in 2011 but are due to return to their native land.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which runs the zoo, paid an annual fee of $1 million (around £790,000) to China for the bears. The outlay paid off because, within just a year of their arrival, they had boosted ticket sales by 50 per cent.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Zoo said: "As the UK’s only giant pandas, they have been incredibly popular with visitors which has helped to connect millions of people with nature as well as raising vital funds for wildlife conservation.

"Through new events and experiences, we provided as many opportunities as possible for people to say goodbye and celebrate the tremendous impact these two charismatic bears have had on our communities, helping to create a world where nature is protected, valued and loved."

Here is everything we know about the loveable animals' UK stay:

When are the giant pandas leaving Edinburgh Zoo?

Under the terms of a 10-year loan, the pandas must return in December.

The stay was extended due to the Covid outbreak as they were originally expected home in 2021.

Visitors could today (Thursday, November 30) see the pandas in their enclosure until 3.30pm. They will then be out of sight as keepers prepare them to leave.

The zoo says that for "security and safety reasons", the exact date and time of their departure have been withheld. However, it is believed they are leaving next week.

Who owns them?

The pandas are owned by the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

Edinburgh Zoo officials wanted them to breed as part of attempts to help the conservation of pandas worldwide.

This sadly did not happen, but the RZSS said: "We are very proud of the contribution we have made to giant panda breeding research alongside our partners at the University of Edinburgh and our findings have been of real benefit to international efforts to protect the species."

Can others be seen in the UK?

No. There are no others in the UK. The pair were the only bears in the UK during their 11-year-stay in Scotland.

London Zoo used to have a panda named Chi Chi but she sadly died in July 1972 and was mourned by the nation. Her remains, now a stuffed exhibit, sit in a glass case at London's Natural History Museum.