Zoo shoots abroad for the pandas’ five-a-day

A Giant Panda munches on some bamboo. Edinburgh Zoo is set to spend up to �70,000 a year on growing its own bamboo for the new panda arrivals. Photo: Chris Ison
A Giant Panda munches on some bamboo. Edinburgh Zoo is set to spend up to �70,000 a year on growing its own bamboo for the new panda arrivals. Photo: Chris Ison
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Edinburgh Zoo is to import the majority of the bamboo needed to feed its new pandas from a farm on mainland Europe – with emergency supplies grown on the site of the zoo itself and elsewhere in the UK.

The imported bamboo is set to cost the zoo about £70,000 a year after the panda pair arrive in Scotland from the Ya’an reserve in Chengdu, China in a few weeks time.

German grower Reiner Winkendick, whose farm is based near Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is set to provide 85 per cent of the animals’ bamboo requirement over the first three years that pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang will spend at the zoo, while the remainder will come from a network of UK growers.

It is expected that the pandas, which can eat up to 18,000 kilos of bamboo every year, will arrive in Scotland by the end of the year.

The imported organic bamboo will arrive from the Netherlands-based nursery every two weeks by ship and lorry, and will be kept in a specially created storage facility to ensure maximum freshness. The same farm also supplies pandas living in zoos in Vienna and Berlin.

“Our bamboo strategy is the result of more than three years of research, planning and exhaustive negotiations with suppliers across the UK and Europe,” said the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s gardens manager Simon Jones.

“Our starting point was to ensure a long-term supply of fresh bamboo that was both sustainable and cost-effective. Because bamboo forms such a fundamental part of the giant pandas’ diet, we also had to guarantee consistency of supply – and to ensure that the bamboo was of the highest possible quality whilst also offering the variety of species required for their highly specialised needs.”

About 25 different species of the plant will be fed to the pandas – five different kinds every day – to ensure a varied diet, while their menu will change depending on the time of year, reflecting natural behaviour in the wild.

Other options for feeding the pandas – including farms in Scotland and offers from individuals and schoolchildren to grow bamboo on their own land – have been eschewed in favour of the Dutch farm. However, in addition to the main production centre in the Netherlands, some bamboo will also be grown at special sites around the zoo itself and it is hoped that eventually, a higher proportion of the plant will be harvested from Scotland.

Bamboo could also be shipped in from farms elsewhere in Scotland and the south of England to supplement the Dutch supply.

Kelburn Estate and Country Centre in Ayrshire, one of only a handful of locations in Scotland that grows bamboo in quantity, in the summer offered the zoo unlimited access to its crop.

It will now make up part of a network of growers based around the UK, which also includes farms in Cornwall – the heart of the UK’s bamboo furniture industry – and private householders in Ratho and Helensburgh.