The record visitor numbers turning up to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang have helped swell the Edinburgh Zoo coffers so much that new big cat homes are being planned.
The move will see some cats leave Corstorphine Hill for pastures new but two new residents – Roberta, a female Asiatic lion, has arrived, and a new adult Sumatran tiger is also en route.
The Big Cat Walkway, a historic but tired feature of the zoo, will be demolished and replaced with a modern enclosure. The plans for what will go in its place are still at an early stage,
Chris West, chief executive for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said the changes would “enhance the visitor experience”.
He said the Big Cat Walkway, which dates back to the 1920s and was part of the original Sir Patrick Geddes-designed Zoo, had seen extensive work carried out over the years but was now out of date.
“The enclosures have been adapted and enhanced over time to meet the animal’s needs. However RZSS would prefer to develop enclosures more in-keeping with the aims of a 21st century conservation charity and will remove the existing infrastructure.
“In order to do this, the big cats currently residing on Big Cat Walkway will leave Edinburgh Zoo’s collection likely from the start of October.” A male and female jaguar and a male Amur leopard will leave and be rehomed elsewhere while the current male Sumatran tiger, Tibor, will be transferred to another collection. The Scottish wildcats will remain on view, and a pair of margays, a small South American cat, have been moved to the cat house beside the sun bears.
The zoo said it was focused on its big cat conservation work, despite some of the animals moving to other conservation centres temporarily. The Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie will welcome a pair of endangered snow leopards.
Mr West said: “RZSS has a history of actively conserving wild cats, both large and small, and our future plans are even bigger.”
The world-renowned WildGenes laboratory, which is based at the zoo, will continue to house research staff and technicians that provide DNA analysis services to zoos and conservation projects all over the world. The improvement works have been welcomed by tourism bosses.
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “It’s extremely welcoming news to hear that Edinburgh Zoo is continuing to improve. Big cats are always a huge draw for visitors and there’s no doubt that they will flock in large numbers to meet the new residents.
“Visitor numbers at Edinburgh Zoo rocketed following the arrival of the pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with excitement and media attention from all over the world.
“These remarkable and majestic big cats will generate a real buzz not only around Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, but right across Scotland with visitors heading out in their masses to catch a glimpse of these exciting animals.”