Zoo visitors urged to bring in their own bamboo to beat panda feeding problem

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IT'S set to turn the zoo rule book on its head.

After years of being told not to feed the animals, the public is to be asked to help provide nourishment for Edinburgh's new attractions.

The impending arrival of giant pandas Tian Tian and Yangguang has given bosses a headache in sourcing the 30kg of bamboo which the pair will munch through every day.

That means Edinburgh residents could be asked to bring in any bamboo growing in their gardens.

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Zoo bosses are preparing for the arrival of the pandas after the agreement was confirmed this week following years of negotiations with Chinese authorities.

Hundreds of panda lovers have already contacted the zoo to pledge sponsorship to "adopt" the animals, and work to convert the former gorilla enclosure which will house them is set to get under way by the end of the month, with the aim of welcoming the pandas by the end of the year.

An evergreen forest will be created within the enclosure, complete with a climbing structure, in a bid to mirror their natural habitat as closely as possible.

Zoo bosses also revealed they are considering creating a bamboo nursery on site or elsewhere - possibly at the zoo's sister attraction the Highland Wildlife Park - in order to cut transportation costs of sourcing it from other countries.

Gary Wilson, the zoo's chief operating officer, said they have already been looking at a number of options, including asking city residents who grow bamboo to donate some.

He said: "We know that there's a very large nursery in Germany which supplies to Spanish zoos.

"We have also spoken to a nursery in England which used to supply to London Zoo so we will probably take some bamboo from them.

"San Diego uses its population to supply bamboo for its zoo and takes two or three stems from each resident who has signed up on a rotational basis.

"It may well be a possibility to use the people of Edinburgh in the same way. A lot of people now plant decorative bamboo in their gardens.

"We have also been testing planting bamboo on site. The closer to home that we get it the better, because that cuts out transportation costs.

"If we transported bamboo from Europe, it would cost 70,000 per year."

The pandas - which will be the first to reside in the UK for 17 years - will be brought over on a transportation plane and then driven to Edinburgh in a specially-equipped vehicle.

Their arrival is set to boost visitor numbers to the attraction dramatically, with zoo bosses estimating that numbers could double to more than a million. When pandas were introduced at Adelaide Zoo in Australia, visitor numbers soared by 70 per cent.

Mr Wilson added: "We have had a massive amount of people wanting to sponsor the pandas. We've had hundreds of calls from all over Britain." Edinburgh Zoo will become one of only a handful of zoos in the western hemisphere to care for giant pandas.

It will join the four zoos in North America that currently house them, with others in Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Madrid.