The first pair of breeding giant pandas in more than 17 years arrived in Britain on Sunday amid much media attention after China lent the animals to the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland.
The move is seen as an attempt to strengthen the political ties between China and the United Kingdom, as well as to aid in conservation efforts. There are fewer than 1,600 pandas currently living in the wild in China, and wildlife societies are pushing hard to move them off the endangered species list in recent years.
A crowd of 450 people waving Scottish and Chinese flags, Yahoo News reported, greeted the two pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, or Sweetie and Sunshine in English. They were carried in large transparent crates, and they seemed largely unaffected by the flight.
FedEx was given the task of transporting the pandas from China to Scotland, and flew them in a luxury private plane that featured four flight attendants and a veterinarian on board, CNBC shared.
FedEx President Gerald P. Leary said his company was “uniquely qualified” to make such a special delivery and he expressed his support for the mission.
"It is a privilege to serve as the trusted carrier of these rare animals, and we are proud to support the preservation efforts of this endangered species,” said Leary.
The specifics of the loan deal will allow the Edinburgh Zoo to keep the pandas and any offspring they have for up to 10 years, after which they will have to be returned home. Furthermore, Scotland will have to pay almost $1 million a year to China, and will be responsible for the large expenses associated with the upkeep of the pandas – including feeding them close to 20 tons of bamboo every year.
Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon professed the pandas “represent a fantastic opportunity to deepen our business, cultural and diplomatic ties,” and described Scotland’s relationship with China as “hugely important.”
Tian Tian and Yang Guang will be kept from public eye for at least one week as they are settled into their new habitat; however, they will soon become the star exhibit at the zoo.