Two giant pandas loaned to the UK 12 years ago flew back to China on Monday morning, as diplomatic relations between London and Beijing cooled. Yang Guang, a male, and Tian Tian, a female, have left Edinburgh Zoo, who have been quarantined since early November in preparation for the trip, have left Edinburgh Zoo on a cargo plane that will take them to the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province.
Scientists have long hoped that the duo, who arrived in 2011, would take advantage of their stay in Scotland to breed, but they have not had a calf. Yang Guang and Tian Tian had been loaned as part of a 10-year deal between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
The two pandas "have had an incredible impact, inspiring millions of people to care about nature," David Field, executive director of the RZSS, was quoted as saying by the PA news agency. They were the only specimens of the endangered species in the UK, which arrived thanks to Beijing's "panda diplomacy", which has spread its ursids across the planet to seal the improvement in its diplomatic relations.
But relations have become strained in recent years between China and some Western powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Last month, three giant pandas, loaned to the Washington Zoo since 2000, also returned to China. Four other pandas are also scheduled to leave Zoo Atlanta sometime in 2024.