Zoo deal set to bring giant pandas to city

GIANT Pandas may be heading to Edinburgh Zoo next year, it was reported today.

The deal follows more than a year of talks between zoo chiefs and senior Chinese officials, and if it goes ahead would make Edinburgh one of only a handful of zoos outside south-east Asia to house the animals.

It is hoped that a breeding pair of giant pandas, aged two or three, will arrive at the zoo next spring, to coincide with the attraction's centenary.

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The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and Chinese government have signed a letter of intent to provide the attraction with the animals, it was reported today.

David Windmill, chief executive of the RZSS, said: "We have met many of those involved and I believe we stand a strong chance of bringing giant pandas to Edinburgh Zoo in 2009."

The animals, seen as the "biggest crowd-pullers on earth", are also considered to be very politically significant, with the Chinese government only loaning pandas to zoos if there is a good diplomatic relationship between the two countries involved.

The agreement will therefore have to be approved by the Chinese government, and have the backing of both Holyrood and Westminster. A final agreement could be signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.