Scotland’s pandas to return to China after Tian Tian ‘wouldn’t swipe right’ on Yang Guang

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Scotland’s two pandas will return to China this year without producing any offspring because they “just don’t get on”, “hugely” disappointed zoo chiefs have said.

David Field, the chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said female Tian Tian and male Yang Guang appeared to be a perfect match when they arrived from China in 2011.

But he said the pandas did not click at their new Edinburgh Zoo home, joking that “perhaps Tian Tian wouldn’t have swiped right” if she was using the dating app Tinder.

Now both aged 19, the pandas will return to China later this year without having any offspring, despite numerous attempts at natural breeding and artificial insemination since 2013.

Tian Tian, also known as Sweetie, produced twins prior to coming to Scotland, but annual efforts to produce a cub in Scotland have failed.

Yang Guang, also known as Sunshine, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2018 and was later castrated. The RZSS, which operates the zoo, has confirmed that breeding will not be attempted during the animals’ remaining period in Scotland.

Mr Field said: “It’s hugely disappointing. Baby pandas are just beautiful. They are exquisite, they are endearing, they are glorious, they are one of the most fantastic ambassadors for people falling back in love with nature.

“But I think the biggest disappointment has been for Tian Tian, because that maternal cycle is really important for them as part of their natural behavioural repertoire – everything from all the hormonal cycles to the nest building to rearing.”

‘Content and happy’

He said they were “two very content and very happy pandas” but added: “Sometimes animals just don’t get on. Genetically they were apparently an extremely good match but behaviourally, if it was Tinder, perhaps Tian Tian wouldn’t have swiped right if she had the choice.”

Despite the lack of offspring, Mr Field said the RZSS and its partners could be proud of its contribution to giant panda breeding research, while visitors have delighted in seeing the animals up close.

He added: “They are hugely emblematic, they are iconic for conservation and they make people smile with sheer abandonment.”

The pandas came to Scotland in 2011 on an initial ten-year arrangement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The first giant pandas in the UK for 17 years, they flew into Edinburgh on a special Panda Express cargo plane.

In December 2021, the RZSS announced it had negotiated a two-year extension to the end of 2023 but officials recently revealed the pandas may return to China as early as October. They will eventually be replaced by another “exciting” species yet to be announced.

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