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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do I want a cuddle? Actually I'd prefer a bamboo takeaway! Zoo's new pandas appear more interested in their surroundings than one another

By Paul Harris

Getting to know each other: Male Yang Guang, left, gazes longingly at Tian Tain from his enclosure in Edinburgh Zoo

Through a wire mesh grille they gazed into each other’s big, black eyes.

On one side was Yang Guang, 20 stone of giant panda, and the other, his intended, Tian Tian.

If they progress from lingering looks to something more, it is hoped that these two could be the parents of the first natural-born panda cub on British soil.

Munch: Yang Guang enjoys a bamboo snack as he gets used to his new surrounding

Alas, yesterday wasn’t the magic moment, and not just because of the 12ft wall between them.

There was too much else to do in their new home at Edinburgh Zoo. To wit: eat, sleep, eat, eat, sleep. Eat some more, loll around a bit; then sleep.

And so, this much heralded public encounter between two Very Important Pandas will not go into the history books as the day romance blossomed in the chill air of Scotland, where they are expected to live for the next ten years. The brutal truth was that Tian Tian simply took one look at her proposed suitor and wandered off.

This was the first photocall for the pandas since their grand arrival last week to a bagpipe welcome after a 5,000-mile flight from China, which is loaning them to Britain.

New attraction: A young boy watches Yang Guang explore the outside enclosure which will be his home for 10 years

Unfamiliar surroundings: But Yang Guang's new home looks surprisingly similar to his old one in China

It was also the closest they have come to members of the public in advance of a grand unveiling scheduled for Friday.

The arranged marriage between these two fine specimens of Ailuropoda melanoleuca is in its early stages yet.

If romance is truly in the air, it will not manifest itself until February.

Tian Tian will be on heat during this period for only around two days so panda keeper Alison Maclean and zoo staff will have to monitor the pair even more intensively than at present.

Partner: Zookeepers hope that Tian Tian, pictured, can be persuaded to mate with Yang Guang

Nervous: So far Tian Tian has been less adventurous than her male counterpart, say her handlers

Their entire lives are recorded on 24-hour panda-cams, which are linked to Alison’s home so she can watch while off duty. (Her husband is getting a bit fed up with it already, she told me yesterday).

Pandas are constantly in danger of extinction.

Some estimates suggest there are fewer than 1,500 left in the wild.

So come spring, all eyes will be on Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

They will have just 48 hours to save the panda world.

It’s a tough assignment, but someone has to do it. Now, where’s the rest of that bamboo?

Relaxed: Yang Guang is already at home in his new environment...

...but he is keen to get more acquainted with Tian Tian when she is in heat

Popular: The pandas, which mark a major diplomatic operation, are expected to be a bid draw at Edinburgh Zoo



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