THE two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo have been “grounded” due to building work on a neighbouring penguin enclosure.
The animals are said to have reacted badly to the noise and vibrations coming from staff working on the new £750,000 enclosure.
Their temporary house arrest, is likely to remain in force until the end of the year, which means visitors to the zoo are unable to see the pandas in their large separate outdoor enclosures.
Experts handling the animals say the “particularly sensitive” nature of the pandas led to the decision, but have pointed out visitors are still able to see them in the indoor section of their enclosures.
Popular penguin parades at the zoo were suspended suddenly in March and dozens of the animals sent to other zoos around Europe while a serious leak at the 60-year-old pool was investigated.
The zoo was forced to mount a major campaign in July to help pay for the new enclosure – which will feature diving boards, water slides and a beach – after investigations into a leak at the old site found much more serious structural problems.
The resident 160-bird colony of king, rockhopper and gentoo penguins had to bedispersed, although about a third of them are leaving the zoo’s collection permanently.
The zoo, which is still running its campaign to raise £100,000 from public donations, has not set a completion date for the work on the penguin enclosure, although it has previously said it hoped the new facility would open “early next year”.
This is not the first time that the close proximity of the penguin enclosure to the two panda ones has caused problems.
Within weeks of the star attractions from China being unveiled last December it emerged that visitors to see the pandas were being hit by droppings from jealous penguins.
The latest problem has emerged just weeks after the zoo came under fire for charging £1,000 for exclusive “panda-keeper” experiences with Tian Tian and Yang Guang in a private area of the enclosures, normally screened off to the public.
One member of staff, who asked not to be named, told The Scotsman, said: “The work on the pool was supposed to be fairly straightforward and only take a few months after an initial five-week draining period.
“It was actually due to reopen in the summer after some essential repairs, but it turned out a whole new penguin enclosure was needed. No-one could have forseen this when the pandas arrived in December.”
Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo, added: “Our two giant pandas are sensitive to noise and vibrations – they are a particularly sensitive species – which is why work is being carried out on the penguin enclosure in stages. Whilst the heavier work takes place the pandas remain in the indoor viewing areas.
“Work on the penguin enclosure was timed to take place after the busy summer season and prior to breeding season for both species – as a charity this was the most practical and sensible solution after a costly leak was discovered in the penguin pool earlier this year.
“We are also mindful that the repair work must last for many years to come, so as the full extent of the leak was discovered we put in place the best solution to tackle it.”