UK bids farewell to its only pair of giant pandas
Role as 'image ambassador' of friendship, cooperation has never changed, will not change
Published: Nov 19, 2023 08:14 PM
Giant panda Photo: website of Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Giant panda Photo: website of Royal Zoological Society of Scotland


Panda lovers in the UK are rushing to say goodbye to the only giant pandas in the country as preparations has been made for them to return to China after the end of their 10-year loan. 

Yang Guang and Tian Tian, also known as Sunshine and Sweetie, came to Scotland in December 2011 under a 10-year deal between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This agreement was later prolonged by an additional two years due to COVID-19, according to the RZSS. 

"Don't let them go!" "They are so cute!" A swarm of people from the UK have been leaving messages on social media to express their love for the giant pandas as now there are only two weeks left before the pair leaves the country.

In a statement by the RZSS, Chief Executive David Field hailed the two giant pandas' incredible impact and ability to inspire millions of people to care about nature. Field also said that this year has seen added interest in the pandas due to their departure. 

Some preparations will be made for the pair's journey back to China in the first week of December, so the RZSS recently announced that visitors can come and see the giant pandas until November 30. 

For the past decade, this pair has been the most popular stars in the zoo, even having their own exclusive Scottish Tartan, with black and white representing their fur color and red representing China.

On the day they arrived in Edinburgh back in 2011, police cars cleared the way, and the public lined the streets to welcome them, with a traditional military band from Scotland performing. The female giant panda, Sweetie, even received the honor of being selected as the "Faces of the year 2011" by the BBC, according to the Xinhua News Agency. 

According to media reports, since the beginning of 2023, many pairs of pandas living abroad have returned to China. Noticeably, giant panda Ya Ya returned to China in April from the Memphis Zoo in the US, where she spent 20 years on loan.

The two pandas Meng Xiang and Meng Yuan at the Berlin Zoo, who have been a star attraction since their birth in 2019, are also scheduled to return to China shortly. 

However, as the public is immersed in the sad atmosphere of saying goodbye to Yang Guang and Tian Tian, some individual media outlets, despite the fact that the RZSS has already stated the reason for the return, have been pushing the story that the move comes down to geopolitical issues.

While answering the question as to why the pandas are returning to China, the RZSS said they plan to convert the giant panda habitat at the zoo to welcome a new species in the future. "After the pandas leave, we will decide on a new species with a crucial factor being how we can support conservation in the wild," the zoo said. 

In an article titled "Britain and US to lose all pandas amid deteriorating relations with China," UK media The Telegraph said the panda loans were affected by China's sour diplomatic relations with the West. 

Zhao Songsheng, manager of YueWeiLai, a Chengdu-based NGO dedicated to protecting giant pandas, told the Global Times on Sunday that pandas are loaned to other countries by China for a period of 10 years. This loan program emphasizes the strong partnerships and scientific collaboration between China and these countries. When contracts expire, the host country can choose whether to apply for an extension or not.

When some individual media outlets are defaming China by saying it is taking advantage of giant pandas in response to current diplomatic relations, why haven't they considered it may be that the UK did not seek an extension? Does this mean that the UK has diplomatic considerations about the issue? Zhao asked, throwing out the question. 

Accusing China of politicizing giant pandas is an attempt to suit their anti-China narrative, Zhao noted, adding that giant pandas are "image ambassadors" of friendship and cooperation. This has never changed and will not change.