Chinese pandas arrive in Britain

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An eagerly anticipated pair of giant pandas arrived in Edinburgh on Sunday on a special charter flight from China, to become the first of the endangered animals to live in Britain for 17 years.

Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian (Sweetie) are a breeding pair and will spend 10 years on loan in the Scottish capital, a deal agreed after years of high-level political and diplomatic negotiations.

The pair of eight-year-old pandas were welcomed to Scotland to the sound of bagpipes as their plane touched down at Edinburgh Airport. The plane had a picture of a panda eating bamboo emblazoned on it.

Locals waving Scottish flags waited to greet them.

The duo were accompanied on their flight from Chengdu in southwest China by two Chinese researchers who will help look after them until they adapt to their new life at Edinburgh Zoo, where it is hoped they will breed.

They will spend a couple of weeks settling in before being put on public display, and the zoo has already reported a huge spike in ticket sales.

Edinburgh Zoo is paying about $1 million (750,000 euros) a year to the Chinese authorities for the pandas.

The agreement to loan the creatures was announced in January following five years of negotiations, and experts from the China Wildlife Conservation Association gave the final go-ahead after a visit to Scotland in October.

China is famed for its "panda diplomacy," using the endangered bears as diplomatic gifts to other countries.

Beijing also recently agreed to lend two giant pandas to a French zoo for 10 years starting from early 2012.

Just 1,600 of the endangered animals remain in the wild in China, with some 300 others in captivity.


© 2011 AFP

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