FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has visited Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas for the first time - and quizzed bosses on the female bear’s prospects of having a cub this year.
Tian Tian (Sweetie), the UK’s only female giant panda, was artificially inseminated in April in the hope of making her pregnant.
If the procedure is successful, confirmation is expected to come in mid-July when she will have an ultrasound scan.
Mr Salmond said he gleaned no special information on the panda’s pregnancy prospects when he met zoo bosses earlier today.
Smiling, he said: “It was the first question I asked, as you would expect in terms of my duties as First Minister of Scotland. (I’ve) no information. No scans are possible, incidentally, at this stage. So we’ll all just have to bite our fingernails and wait and see.”
Mr Salmond got the chance to see male bear Yang Guang (Sunshine) eating bamboo in his enclosure.
“All of Scotland has been delighted to welcome Tian Tian and Yang Guang to Edinburgh Zoo and I’m thrilled finally to see them in their home,” he said.
“Their presence here is proving to be a huge draw for visitors to the zoo, meaning a welcome boost for tourism and the economy. Already, they have attracted more than 500,000 visitors in their first year.
“It is further proof, if any were needed, of the international reputation of RZSS (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland) and its standing abroad in the fields of science, research and conservation.”
The First Minister was there to congratulate the zoo on meeting a volunteering milestone. During its centenary year, the visitor attraction has just recruited its 100th volunteer, Danielle Bowers.
Mr Salmond met some of the zoo volunteers as part of his celebrations of Volunteers’ Week.
“Thousands of Scots and visitors have had incredible experiences at the zoo over the years, and it has been a beacon of animal conservation and education for people much further afield,” he said.
“The RZSS, the charity that owns and manages Edinburgh Zoo, has a professional staff that is second-to-none and Scotland is fortunate to have experts of their calibre working here.
“The zoo’s volunteers have also made an incredible contribution over the years and its reputation is in no small part thanks to their efforts. In its 100th year it’s now passed the milestone of recruiting its 100th volunteer, a fantastic achievement.”
Chris West, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “We were delighted to welcome the First Minister to Edinburgh Zoo to talk about the worldwide charitable conservation, research and education work of RZSS.
“It was also a pleasure to introduce our famous black and white bears Tian Tian and Yang Guang.”