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Edinburgh Zoo celebrates as pandas prove star attractions

Tian Tian tastes a birthday cake to mark a year since their arrival. Picture: Rob McDougall

Tian Tian tastes a birthday cake to mark a year since their arrival. Picture: Rob McDougall

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

EDINBURGH Zoo has recorded a 50 per cent increase in visits since the arrival of its two giant pandas exactly a year ago, the attraction has reported.

• Edinburgh Zoo has seen a 50 per cent increase in visitors since arrival of pandas

• 275,000 more visitors than last year

More than 800,000 people have flocked to the attraction since the beginning of the year, compared with 525,000 over the whole of 2011, zoo bosses revealed yesterday.

Just over 500,000 people have now seen the pandas, with almost all sessions fully booked between May and September.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is also reporting a 
70 per cent increase in paying customers to the zoo, as opposed to its members, who can visit as many times as they want without paying extra.

The society says it has also increased its membership by 25 per cent, to just over 25,000.

Although figures were not available, the zoo also said it had seen the number of international visitors soaring, with many saying they had come to Edinburgh specifically because the pandas were there.

The society’s deal with the Chinese government for the pandas, whose dedicated enclosure cost £250,000 to build, will see it hand over an annual fee of £625,000 over ten years.

Visitor numbers to see the pandas have tailed off in recent months after a 200 per cent increase in the attraction’s figures for the first few months.

There was also disappointment when the two pandas failed to mate during a short breeding season in April.

When plans to bring the animals to the zoo were first revealed four years ago, it was hoped they may help to attract more than a million visitors to the zoo. However, revised targets were drawn up after annual visitor numbers dropped to just over half a million in the run-up to the arrival of the pandas, when the attraction was dogged by bad publicity over internal investigations into senior staff.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrived at Edinburgh Zoo on 
4 December last year after a 5,000-mile flight from China. Princess Anne and actress Nicole Kidman have been among their most famous visitors.

Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo, said: “We’re delighted with how it’s gone over the last year. Most panda sessions were completely sold out between May and the end of September and it is still pretty busy.”

It is hoped the research on the two pandas over the last year will help their chances of breeding in the spring. Light levels in their enclosure are to be adjusted to try to synchronise their breeding cycles.

Darren McGarry, head of animals at the zoo, said: “Their first year at their new home has been wonderful … and we have learnt so much about them.”

 

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