Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas have been removed from China’s endangered species list – as a ten-year loan deal to house them comes to an end.
The UK’s only giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang were moved to the zoo in December 2011 on a ten-year loan.
It marked a landmark deal between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Bifengxia Breeding Centre, in China, with the annual cost of the pair around $1m.
Chinese authorities have now announced they have removed giant pandas from the endangered species list.
They said the panda population in the wild had grown to 1800 and credited the role played by nature reserves in protecting the previously threatened species.
Pandas were moved into ‘vulnerable’ status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2016 – but Chinese wildlife experts remained cautious about threats to the species at the time.
Head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s department of nature and ecology conservation, Cui Shuhong, said: “The panda population in the wild has risen to about 1800, which reflects their improved living conditions and China’s efforts in keeping their habitats integrated.”
Spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, described the move as “great news”.
He said: “The concept that lush mountains and clear water are worth their weight in gold and silver has taken root among the public in China.
“Respect for, harmony with and protection of nature has become a conscious choice for all levels of government and the public.
“I would also like to stress that the ecology and environment bears on the wellbeing of all humanity, and international cooperation is essential to protection efforts.”
During the pandemic Edinburgh Zoo bosses issued a plea to China for financial help, with their care costing the RZSS around $35,000 a month.
In April Tian Tian was artificially inseminated for the eighth time after last giving birth to two cubs in China in 2007.
Her pregnancy will only become fully confirmed if she gives birth in a few months’ time.
RZSS chief executive David Field said: “Giant pandas have long been a symbol for wildlife conservation across the globe and incredible ambassadors, raising awareness of the threats their species, and far too many others, face in the wild.
“Thanks to the work of dedicated conservationists in China and around the world, pandas are now also a symbol of hope as our planet faces a biodiversity crisis.
“When people and communities work together, we can save animals from extinction and create real change for the better.
“Tian Tian and Yang Guang play a critically important role in attracting and engaging hundreds of thousands of visitors to Edinburgh Zoo each year so more people can learn about the threats animals face in the wild and the action they can take to help.
“Their power to connect people with nature and encourage behaviour change is invaluable.
“It is too soon to say what may happen when the contract ends at the end of the year.
“We are in discussions with our colleagues in China and will update everyone as soon as possible.”