MORE than 1,500 panda fans snapped up tickets to see the rare creatures within hours of sales opening, Edinburgh Zoo bosses have revealed.
Those lucky enough to get hold of the passes managed to overcome widespread problems with the zoo’s website, which struggled to cope with the demand, after the long-awaited arrival of the animals was confirmed on Monday.
Despite the technical glitches, numerous slots to see the pandas on the opening day of public viewing next month were still available on the zoo’s website last night.
The zoo’s chief executive, Hugh Roberts, said that the zoo was experiencing “unprecedented” levels of interest in the pandas, which are reputedly costing an estimated £1 million a year for the zoo to borrow from the Chinese authorities.
The zoo announced last night that two 14 foot-high inflatable pandas would be erected outside the zoo to help drum up interest in its star attractions.
News of the advance ticket sales – four slots every half hour – was revealed as it emerged that the zoo’s 23,000 members will get the chance to see the animals up to three days before they go on show to the general public on December 16.
They currently pay £56 a year for unlimited access to the zoo and will be able to see the pandas, due to arrive on Sunday, as often as they like.
The zoo has confirmed it will also be holding back almost a third of tickets for available slots to cope with demand from people who turn up on the day.
But the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the attraction, is urging visitors to book a slot in advance to avoid any disappointment. Tickets cost £15.50 for an adult and £11 for a child aged three and over.
It also emerged yesterday that up to 50 new workers are being hired following the arrival of the pandas. About 15 new staff will work to accommodate the creatures’ needs, while the rest are being hired to work in catering and retail.
The two pandas – Tian Tian and Yang Guang (meaning sweetie and sunshine respectively) – will arrive under tight security at Edinburgh Airport on Sunday morning after travelling in special containers on a chartered flight from China.
A zoo spokeswoman said people could secure an early viewing by choosing to join the zoological society, with memberships being kept open over the next few months.
Other benefits on top of free admission throughout the year include discounted tickets for family and friends.
Mr Roberts said: “We are witnessing unprecedented levels of interest in viewing opportunities for our newest arrivals, which proves what a global draw the giant pandas are going to be for the zoo. We have invested heavily in systems for the giant panda arrival and a lot of careful planning has gone into our ticketing strategy.
“Our aim is to allow a steady flow of visitors through both viewing areas of the enclosure throughout the day, whilst maximising the viewers’ panda experience.
“We want as many people as possible to view our giant pandas in a comfortable and accessible environment, and our advance-booking system will allow us to do this.”
She added: “To guarantee viewing and to avoid disappointment, all visitors are being encouraged to pre-book their panda viewing online when purchasing zoo entry tickets.
“Around one third of panda tickets will also be put aside for visitors coming to the zoo, available on a first come, first served basis.”