Zoo looks to recruit Giant Panda Team to cope with crowds

Zoo chiefs expect Tian Tian to be in Edinburgh by the end of the year
Zoo chiefs expect Tian Tian to be in Edinburgh by the end of the year
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A JOB panda-ing to the whims of zoo visitors might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

But Edinburgh Zoo is looking for staff who are keen to do just that as it recruits its new “Giant Panda Team” – around a dozen people who will work with visitors who come to see the pandas when they arrive later this year.

The recruitment drive comes as zoo staff await the arrival of a final delegation from China – expected at the end of next week – who will check on the panda facilities to decide if they are ready for Tian Tian and Yuang Guan.

If they give the go-ahead, political leaders in China will then also have to give their approval, and it is hoped the pandas will arrive in Edinburgh by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the Giant Panda Team will be swotting up to make sure they can answer visitors’ questions about the new arrivals.

They won’t be looking after the animals – that role is to be taken on by head keeper Alison Maclean. But the team will answer customers’ questions on the pandas, keep the queues moving through the enclosure to make sure the hoped-for 600 visitors an hour can get through, and – according to the job description – “manage visitors’ expectations of visibility of Giant Pandas”.

Panda project director Grant Law said the bears would not be particularly shy, howeverHe said: “They’re in a very visible enclosure. There will be times when they will need to go in for some food or go out to allow keepers into the enclosures to allow more bamboo to be put out. But they like to be outside, they even enjoy the rain, so they’ll be outside a lot of the time.”

While the new recruits are expected to show enthusiasm, they won’t be expected to turn up for their first day at work fully briefed. Mr Law said: “I don’t think there will be many people who have expert knowledge of pandas. Like anybody who works at the zoo, we’re looking for people who have an interest in animals, and who are excited by working in a zoo.

“We’ll give them as much background information as they need to talk proficiently about the likely areas that our visitors will be asking about.”

Mr Law said he was “delighted” with the £250,000 panda enclosure, which is now completed, as its prospective inhabitants prepare for their journey around the globe. Last month, keepers at the Bifengxia Panda Base, near the city of Ya’an in China, transferred them into quarantine cages in preparation for the move.

Mr Law added: “We’re waiting for the Chinese to come and visit us, and then go home and say everything’s OK. It could be as soon as the end of the next week but we’re still waiting for some paperwork, and these things sometimes get more complicated than you’d expect. But then we’ll wait for the political people to say ‘yes’. We’ve a commitment from the Chinese to have the pandas by the end of the year.”

A zoo announcement is expected soon on whether there will be any additional charge to view the pandas.