When Tian Tian and Yang Guang see their new home in Edinburgh Zoo on Sunday, they will find a leafy enclosure where they can settle in without knowing the eyes of the world are upon them.
Their identical, though separate, homes consist of walls of rock high enough to stop any escape bid, thick tree trunks to scratch, bamboo shoots curled around the branches of newly planted trees, a shallow pool and a small cave to sleep in.
With tinted, soundproof glass as a shield from the public, the new arrivals can sit back in their respective residences or enjoy a quiet splash in their ponds.
For visitors, the walkway through the enclosure currently has the scent of freshly sawn timber from the slanted wooden panels that provide the structure of the visiting space.
Tian Tian, eight, is the lady of the pair and gave birth to twins Shen Wei and Bo Si in 2009. Yang Guang, also eight, is the male and has a twin sister, Xin Yue, back in China.
They will be separated at first, as pandas are solitary animals who opt for different environments in the wild, depending on their gender. They will be introduced only when their keeper believes they are settled enough to mate.
Although Edinburgh’s pandas will be well cared for, they will have to deal with the same problem faced by many city dwellers – noisy neighbours. Situated near the Monkey House, their open-air homes will undoubtedly be invaded by the sound of black howler monkeys screeching nearby.
And Tian Tian and Yang Guang will enjoy the Scottish weather. Edinburgh’s cool, wet climate and mild temperatures are ideal for pandas, and they will delight in any snow.
The walls of the panda zone have been painted a soothing mint green to resemble a more natural environment than the grey of concrete, and the only sign out of the ordinary for the two might be the occasional man in a yellow high-visibility jacket putting the finishing touches to a project five years in the making.
For Edinburgh Zoo, the timing of the pandas’ grand entrance couldn’t be better. With visitor numbers down and the winter approaching, the investment of £278,000 in the enclosure will undoubtedly pay off – pandas are a sure way of attracting visitors. Their introduction to Adelaide Zoo in Australia in 2009 saw visitor numbers rise by 70 per cent.
Keeper Alison Maclean is charged with the welfare of Tian Tian and Yang Guang, and any future cubs.
Mating could only take place over a three-day period in February when Tian Tian would normally give off the scent of powerful hormones to Yang Guang if she is ready.
Ms Maclean, 46, who has worked in zoos for more than 20 years, told The Scotsman: “It’s the pinnacle of my career. Most people don’t even get to see giant pandas, let alone work with them.”
And cubs? “It’s one step at a time,” she said.