It is not hard to get all protective and infantile when you observe dimly your first giant panda through a glass partition. The Observer reports
“Look, his wee pond is all iced over. Won’t it hurt his wee paws when he goes for a drink?” I ask the keeper at Edinburgh Zoo. “No, they prefer cold temperatures and they enjoy smashing the ice with their paws,” she replies.
I grew up in an era when Johnny Morris was king of animal television and so I have a habit of personalising the behaviour of animals, as Johnny used to do, when I watch wildlife programmes. Often I ascribe Glaswegian vernacular to them. Thus, lions and tigers are always “big” and they say things to each other like: “Ahm starvin’, big man, let’s go and jump a few of those antelopes for wur lunch.”
At the panda enclosure last week I was at it again. Yang Guang, the male of the pair currently engaging the gawping hordes, was sitting underneath his tree chomping on bamboo shoots. Unlike other wild beasts, he is happy to hold eye contact. I fancy he is challenging us. “Have you got a problem, pal?” You can also see why people are enchanted by them. The big black patches on their face make them childlike. And when Tian Tian (Sweetie) is seated and eating, she seems very human in her movements.
Yes, Edinburgh’s two giant pandas have swung to the rescue of headline writers again. Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s keepers have begun to observe behaviour that suggests that they may be about to mate.
Tian Tian has been calling out to Yang Guang (Sunshine) in the compound next door. Sunshine has been doing handstands and marking his territory in all sorts of ways. “Ah’m up for the Cup,” he’d be telling his pals. It’s the perfect feelgood story for the spring.
The female is in season for a mere two days and the show may be all over inside a minute. The keepers will expect to know when the time is right by a series of signals that will include Tian Tian’s temperature readings. The male is prone to be more aggressive at this stage and the keepers are acutely aware that Yang Guang can be inadvertently harmed while mating.
Scotland has been treated to mini treatises on how male giant pandas set about “marking their territory”. On the Scotsman’s front page, underneath a picture of Yang Guang’s trapeze routine, the caption read: “Tian Tian has started calling out to Yang Guang, who has been peering into her cage.” Surely there’s a typo in there?
Staff members at the zoo are cautiously optimistic that mating could take place as early as next week. Under the terms of the agreement with the Beijing government which underpins the 10-year panda project, though, any baby panda must be sent to China after two years. After that it will participate in China’s breeding programme in the wild and never see Scotland again. In effect, Scotland has rented the pandas for this period, which started on their arrival 14 months ago. The annual fee is around £700,000 plus food and sundries. Home for each of the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo is an enclosure the size of a small kitchen showroom. It’s a split-level number with a cave, a pond, and some shrubbery on a grass and rock terrain. Quite how the pandas will feel after 10 years of prowling this same patch is open to suggestion. The zoo insists it has a robust “enrichment” programme in which they are trained to do exercises and are made to “hunt” for food, which, although they are carnivores, consists almost solely of bamboo.
It’s clear that all those engaged in the welfare of the pandas work hard to ensure their wellbeing. But that is if you can believe any beast can be comfortable pacing up and down the same artificial strip of piece of turf for 10 years.
The zoo is sensitive about any criticism of the beasts’ mental welfare. “While we cannot replace their habitat in the wild, we can ensure the animals in our collections have everything they need to lead a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. It’s very easy to forward our own emotions onto animals and become anthropomorphic in our views towards them. This is unfair to the animals as they do not think that way.”
How do they know? Is there not a case for simply letting these extraordinary-looking creatures take their chances with nature’s indiscriminate pruning fork? No species has a sacrosanct right to everlasting life and surely it would be better to die out while living free rather than appear in this endless circus. Iain Valentine, director of conservation and research at the zoo, has heard it all before. “Pandas have existed on earth for between four million and eight million years,” he said. “Their problems only started when we arrived and began to make our presence felt. We have a moral duty to conserve them and to educate people about their habitat, health and the threats they face.”
John Robins, of Animal Concern, is a persistent critic of the panda project which he describes as a “tawdry, geo-political carve-up”. Whatever else the agreement may be about the pandas’ mental and physical welfare is not the primary objective, he says. “China has turned its panda reserves into vulgar theme parks where people stage marriage ceremonies and the rich buy holiday homes. I’d much rather see the £1m or so spent in lobbying the Chinese government to develop proper national parks where the pandas can roam free. We shouldn’t be breeding them for this questionable purpose.”
In the viewing room another group of 50 or so visitors are willing Tian Tian to do something that will make their entrance fee worthwhile. The children are outnumbered by the adults, one of whom thinks it’s a good idea to use flash photography as he aims his camera at the beast. How long though, will this national novelty last; of pressing your nose up against a window and watching a largely inert animal eat and sleep again and again and again?
If a new baby panda appears later this year in Edinburgh, it will be a great time for Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, to bury bad news. For this will be a historically unique event of seismic proportions: the world’s first Scottish panda. But will it come out for an independent Scotland? And can we please call it something normal like Colin or Tracey, rather than Twinkle or anything else too cutesy?
Once Tian Tian had ovulated, which occurs only once a year, she had just 36 hours to get pregnant. The Independent reports
Making beautiful babies is clearly more of a problem for giant pandas than for rare ducks. Britain’s panda pair, Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo, ran out of mating time yesterday as their much-hyped but limited breeding season drew to an unsuccessful close.
At the same time it was announced that the world’s rarest duck, the Madagascar pochard, had produced 18 ducklings in captivity in its native land – an achievement hailed as an “incredible step forward” in saving the bird from extinction.
The two pandas had been brought together this week when it became clear that Tian Tian, the female, had ovulated – an event that happens only once a year – leaving her a mere 36 hours in which to get pregnant.
The animals met in a “tunnel of love” between their two enclosures, but despite showing much mutual interest, wrestling, grunting and climbing over each other, they did not manage to complete the full baby-panda manufacturing process.
“Each time the pair met we saw a huge amount of eagerness and attraction between Tian Tian and Yang Guang,” said Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo. “There was lots of vocalisation and encouragement from our female, and physical contact between the two. He mounted her several times, but full mating did not occur.”
He added: “We are hugely encouraged by how much the natural sparks flew between the two animals, as, like humans, not all male and female pandas are attracted to each other.
“Both of them were keen to mate, but their inexperience showed.”
By contrast, there was no stopping the tiny group of ducks in Madagascar, which until recently had been thought extinct.
In a conservation project involving Britain’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a worldwide charity, birds that hatched from eggs produced in captivity, after a tiny group was rediscovered, have now themselves bred, producing 18 ducklings that are being reared at a special conservation centre.
“The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction,” said Glyn Young, a Durrell biologist.
- Britain’s pandas ‘hit it off’ but fail to mate (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Britain’s pandas ‘hit it off’ but fail to mate (mnn.com)
- World’s rarest duck is bred in captivity (itv.com)
- Pandas#我想你 ＃我愛你 Hopes For Pitter-Patter Of Tiny Paws (leggotunglei808.wordpress.com)
- Scottish News: Edinburgh Zoo: We’ll screen panda cub’s birth on the internet.. if Tian Tian and Yang Guang get together (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- Giant pandas fail to mate (guardian.co.uk)
Yang Guang draws attention as he explores his new enclosure atEdinburgh Zoo at a preview on Dec 12. The Scottish public got its firstlook four days later. David Moir / Reuters
Visitors pose for photos in front of female giant panda Xian Nu, who iscalled Shin Shin in Japan, as she munches bamboo at Ueno ZoologicalPark in Tokyo. Her appearance on April 1 with male Bi Li, now called RiRi, was the first panda viewing in Japan in three years. The 5-year-oldshad arrived from China’s Sichuan province in February. Issei Kato /Reuters
Staff workers at Bifengxia prepare Tian Tian for her trip to Edinburgh.She and Yang Guang are on loan to Scotland for 10 years. Heng Yi / forChina Daily
Hua Zuiba begins a 30-hour journey to Spain in 2007. It took herseveral months to relax in her new home. Xie Hui / for China Daily
Greater global role has its burdens for our ambassadors of goodwill, China Daily reports from Ya’an and Chengdu, Sichuan province.
China’s giant pandas are on the move again.
Yuan Zai and Huan Huan will leave on Sunday forBeauval Zoo in central France, according to theChengdu panda research base.
This follows the arrival of another panda pair in Scotlandon Dec 4.
Yuan Zai is male and Huan Huan female, and both wereborn at Chengdu.
Further details were not available but will be announced at a news conference on Tuesday.
Giant pandas have been goodwill ambassadors for China for more than 1,000 years. They stillserve that role, but animal conservation and scientific research, both nationally and internationally,play a bigger part.
Although their mission is significant actually getting pandas to a foreign destination has never beeneasy.
Wu Zetian, the first empress in China during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), is said to have givena pair of pandas and 70 sheets of panda skin to Emperor Temmu of Japan in October 685.
The first person to take a living panda out of China was Ruth Harkness, an American fashiondesigner. She captured a 6-week-old cub during her exploration of a mountainous region inWenchuan county, Sichuan province, in 1936. She named the cub Su Lin, which means “a little bitof something cute”, after the sister-in-law of her expedition partner, Quentin Young.
With the help of friends, Harkness bribed customs officers to record her as “taking along a barkingdog”. Su Lin was carried onto the ocean liner President McKinley in a bamboo basket and thenoutside China. Later, the cub was sent to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and attracted as many as40,000 visitors a day.
Sixteen pandas were taken out of China – some illegally – from 1936 to 1946, according to theChengdu Research Base. At least 70 dead, stuffed pandas are stored in museums of othercountries.
Since 1994, the Chengdu base and China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Pandain Sichuan have sent at least 26 pandas to the United States, Australia, Japan, Thailand, SouthKorea, Spain, Austria and the United Kingdom for cooperative research on panda conservation,breeding and veterinary medicine.
The pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo are female Tian Tian (Sweetie) and male Yang Guang (Sunlight),both born in August 2003. They left the Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an, Sichuan province, andspent a couple of weeks settling into their new home before public viewing opened on Dec 16.
They will be on loan to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for 10 years, and it is hoped theywill produce cubs during their stay. The projects make the Edinburgh Zoo the eighth zoo in theWestern Hemisphere to have giant pandas, and Beauval will be the ninth.
Making the transition
To help the pandas adapt to their new environment more swiftly and smoothly, Chinese expertsescort them to their new countries and teach local keepers and veterinarians how to raise captivepandas in a simulated wild environment.
It wasn’t an easy transition for Wang Wang and Funi, who left Bifengxia for Adelaide Zoo in SouthAustralia in November 1999. They had just developed extra fur for a Ya’an winter, when theaverage temperature is 5 degrees Celsius. In Adelaide, however, it was summer and 35 C onaverage. The pandas’ thick coats prevented them from cooling easily.
During their first month, the pandas stayed all day inside, where the temperature was controlled at18-20 C. The next month, keepers opened the enclosure door for a half-hour each day toencourage the pandas to go outside and get familiar with the new environment.
In a week, Wang Wang caught cold. He had a runny nose, lost his appetite and ran a fever ashigh as 38.9 C (normal is 37). Veterinarians diagnosed him with mild pneumonia and gave himmedication. He recovered two days later.
Adelaide is Australia’s driest state capital, with an annual average rainfall of just 549 mm, comparedwith more than 1,800 mm for Ya’an. It has only a couple of types of bamboo, which Wang Wangand Funi do not quite enjoy. To meet their dietary requirements, Adelaide Zoo began to fly inbamboo every week from Queensland in northeast Australia, according to Luo Bo, who took thepandas from Ya’an to Adelaide. The zoo also has a 14-hectare browse plantation at Bolivar, anorthern suburb of Adelaide.
All of the zoos that receive pandas from China have found bamboo supplies in their own or nearbycountries. At the US’ National Zoo in Washington, each panda is fed about 23 kg of bamboo a day.Most of what they eat is grown on a farm in southern Maryland in the US.
“These countries do not import bamboo from China mainly because long-distance transportationexpenses remain high,” said Luo, who is deputy director of panda husbandry at ChinaConservation and Research.
“Besides, it is hard to preserve fresh bamboo during the trip. Not to mention that it usually takesone or two months for living plants like bamboo to go through the quarantine procedure before theyare allowed for exportation.”
The Edinburgh Zoo expects Tian Tian and Yang Guang to consume nearly 18,000 kg of bambooevery year, or about 20 three-meter stems each day.
Initially, German grower Reiner Winkendick is providing 85 percent of the animals’ requirementwith bamboo he produces at a nursery on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The rest is grown at specialsites around the zoo. After three years, the zoo will increase its homegrown supply.
Stress of flying
Among all factors that would stress the pandas, long-distance travel is the most significant, said LiMingxi, an expert at the Chengdu base.
In September 2007, Li and a colleague escorted pandas Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba to Madrid Zoo inSpain. They took off in Chengdu on a TNT cargo aircraft for a transfer in Shanghai.
Because they had already cleared customs in Chengdu, they could not leave the Shanghai airport.The Chinese experts put the caged pandas in a relatively quiet corner of the freight yard, but theloud noises of cargo loading and planes taking off and landing disturbed the animals.
Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba became nervous and restless, pacing their cages for half the night. Liand his colleague were prepared, with 200 kg of fresh bamboo shoots. The food comforted thepandas, and they fell asleep around 4 am. They took off for Madrid a few hours later.
After more than 30 hours of travel, the pair finally arrived at the zoo. The passageways were toonarrow, so a crane was used to lift them into their outdoor activity fields. From there, the pandasmoved to the indoor enclosures.
Hua Zuiba remained nervous for several months. She clasped her limbs tightly even when she waseating, rather than spreading out her arms and legs comfortably.
“Transportation – especially transfer – has a huge impact on pandas,” Li said. “If we take a directflight, it will be much less stressful. The more twists and turns they experience, the louder noisesthey suffer, the bigger the impact.
“In an ideal world, pandas should be closed from the public upon their arrival in another countryand not receive any form of visit, reception or interview. After several days of rest, they will adaptto the new environment very quickly,” he said.
The cages for panda transportation are specially designed and, usually, are made by pandaexperts. In the case of Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba, the pair bound for Madrid, the Chinese expertssealed three sides of the cage with steel plates to prevent people from having contact with theanimals and provided many holes on the side plates for ventilation.
For Wang Wang and Funi’s trip to Australia, the cage made in China was 1.66 meters long, 1.2meters high and 1 meter wide. Its main frame was steel, while its baseboard was plastic for warmth.The light inside the cage was kept low to quiet the pandas.
People could not touch the pandas from the outside, nor could the pandas reach out to injurepeople. Animal keepers and veterinarians could watch the animals at any time from an observationhole that was convenient to open and close. A tray was installed at the bottom of the cage to collecturine, which was soaked up by absorbent material.
Sometimes, containers provided by well-known shipping companies are used for pandatransportation.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang traveled in two custom-built containers provided by FedEx Express,which flew the pandas nonstop from Chengdu to Edinburgh on a chartered Boeing 777F, a flightcalled the FedEx Panda Express. Such containers will also be used to send the pandas to France,Li said.
- Twelve Panda Cubs Go Exploring (shoppingblog.com)
- Panda caught on infra-red camera tucking into dead antelope (dailymail.co.uk)
- China panda cubs leave the nest (reuters.com)
- Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo: Tian Tian and Yang Guang celebrate their first Christmas in the UK (dailymail.co.uk)
- ‘Trepidation’ of panda zoo keeper (bbc.co.uk)
- Red Panda Moves In (neatorama.com)
- World’s ‘most expensive’ tea grown in Chinese panda poo (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Infrequent Flyer Pandas Take the High Road — the Sky-High Road — to Scotland (ibtimes.com)
- I love this picture. (blahbethany.com)
- Giant pandas, on loan from China, now living in Scotland (csmonitor.com)
I return from Christmas holidays, to a new storm, so-called #Pandagate , but is it a ‘storm in a tea-cup’ ? In my opinion, unless the rules specify who can or cannot be nominated for Woman of the Year, what is so wrong with putting promoting a panda mother, who is emblematic of species working for its very survival….? I have been to
From CHINA DAILY – It was intended as a light-hearted addition to an otherwise serious list of women who made the headlines in 2011. But the BBC’s inclusion of a panda in its “faces of the year” has kicked up a storm.
In a media row dubbed Pandagate by users of Twitter, the broadcaster has included Tian Tian (Sweetie), one of two pandas who arrived at a Scottish zoo earlier this month, as its female face for December in an online feature.
The hairy giant is named alongside women such as US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head during a meeting with voters, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Kate Middleton’s sister Pippa.
Opposition Labour lawmaker Stella Creasy was among those who criticized the BBC’s decision, saying that despite its light-hearted tone, the list caused concern because it appeared to be part of a trend.
Last month, the BBC came under fire for failing to include any women in the 10-strong shortlist for its prestigious Sports Personality of the Year award.
“These lists aren’t meant to be serious but coming so soon after the lack of women from their Sports Personality of the Year award it does seem as if the BBC hasn’t noticed the wide and varied contribution women make to public life,” Creasy said in a statement.
Tian Tian the panda enjoys the unexpected honor of being named one of the “faces of the year” by the BBC. [Photo/Agencies]
“Whilst we all love a good panda story, in a year when Christine Lagarde became head of the IMF, or Helle Thorning-Schmidt became prime minister of Denmark or even the sad death of Amy Winehouse, it’s frustrating the BBC couldn’t think of 12 human female faces who have made the news this year.”
The BBC said this was not the first time an animal had made the list. “Including Sweetie as one of the annual headline makers was a light-hearted addition to the list,” a spokeswoman said.
In 2009, Benson the Carp was August’s entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig, a popular cartoon character, was on the female list for April.
“They eat well, sleep well, enjoy bamboo every day and enjoy seeing visitors,” Roberts said.
About 2,000 visitors come to Edinburgh Zoo to watch the pair every day, but the daylight is quite short at the moment, Roberts added.
When it comes to the news that BBC selected Tian Tian as one of its women “faces of the year 2011″, Roberts said it’s very wonderful.
Eve Miller poses for photographers as she watches Tian Tian, a female giant panda, at Edinburgh Zoo in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Dec 16, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
The selection, on the BBC’s online magazine, has provoked controversy. Unlike the women’s page, all individuals of the men’s page were people. Yang Guang, the male panda brought to Edinburgh with Tian Tian, was not included. Some people also said Tian Tian may be cute, but she is not so influential.
“Different people have different opinions,” Roberts said, adding that some people take the selection very seriously and they think it’s not good, while others don’t like hard news stories.
Tang Chunxiang, vice-director of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda and one of the Chinese experts staying at the zoo, said the BBC’s selection of Tian Tian is good.
“British people love pandas,” Tang said.
- PandaGate: BBC names a panda one of its 12 most interesting women of the year (mnn.com)
- BBC chooses Tian Tian熊猫甜甜 as December woman 2011 (leggotunglei808.wordpress.com)
- BBC panda row after Tian Tian named among year’s top women (guardian.co.uk)
- Panda Express lands in Edinburgh (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- Pandagate! Anger as BBC chooses Tian Tian as December woman 2011 (guardian.co.uk)
- Tian Tian the Panda: BBC’s 2011 Female Face of the Year? (blippitt.com)
- Faces of the Year (bbc.co.uk)
- Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo: Tian Tian and Yang Guang celebrate their first Christmas in the UK (dailymail.co.uk)
- BBC panda row after Tian Tian named among year’s top women (bfreenews.com)
- Edinburgh Zoo pandas Tian Tian and Yuan Guang fall in love (mirror.co.uk)