Edinburgh Zoo pandas may have to leave due to Covid financial pressures

Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas may have to return to China next year at the end of their 10-year contract with the Chinese government due to financial pressures.

The potential loss of the pandas is couple with news that the planned reintroduction of the Scottish wildcat – which has been on the verge of extinction in Scotland – could be scrapped altogether due to Brexit and the loss of vital grants from the European Union.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, faced enormous financial pressure when it was forced to close for three months during the summer.

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Costing about £1 million a year to lease a mating pair, David Field, chief executive of the Society, says the charity will have to “seriously consider every potential saving” including their giant panda contract.

Mr Field said: “The closure of Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park for three months due to Covid-19 has had a huge financial impact on our charity because most of our income comes from our visitors.

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“Although our parks are open again, we lost around £2 million last year and it seems certain that restrictions, social distancing and limits on our visitor numbers will continue for some time, which will also reduce our income.

“We have done all we can to protect our charity by taking a government loan, furloughing staff where possible, making redundancies where necessary and launching a fundraising appeal.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian were a gift from the Chinese government in 2011. Picture: Ian Georgeson

“The support we have received from our members and animal lovers has helped to keep our doors open and we are incredibly grateful.”

The zoo was not eligible for the Government’s zoo fund, which was aimed at smaller zoos.

Mr Field added: “We have to seriously consider every potential saving and this includes assessing our giant panda contract and the cost of their daily care.

“At this stage, it is too soon to say what the outcome will be. We will be discussing next steps with our colleagues in China over the coming months.”

The pandas’ breeding programme was also halted this year on account of the coronavirus pandemic.

Plans had been in place for Tian Tian, the zoo’s female panda, to be artificially inseminated for the seventh time since arriving in Scotland from China in 2011.

However, due to the pandemic, vets were this year instructed to respect social distancing advice and provide emergency care to the animals only.

The zoo is part of a number of conservation projects, including one to reintroduce Scottish wildcats.

Reintroduction efforts were announced after wildcats were declared “functionally extinct” in the wild in 2019.

However, Mr Field said projects like that may also have to be scrapped due to Brexit and being unable to apply for grants from the European Union.

The iconic Scottish wildcat, the UK's only native feline, has been present for some 7,000 years and going back to the last ice age.

But recent studies suggest there are too few genuine wildcats left in the wild for the species to survive, with the situation exacerbated by wildcats breeding with domestic cats.

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