Giant pandas’ 5,000-mile journey from Scotland to China: Yang Guang and Tian Tian head to Chengdu on a 13-hour flight after spending 12 years at Edinburgh Zoo

  •  Yang Guang and Tian Tian are now on a flight to the Sichuan province

Two giant pandas have embarked on a 5,000-mile journey from Scotland to China on a 13-hour flight after spending 12 years living in Edinburgh Zoo.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian, both 20-years-old, are the only giant pandas residing in the UK. But now they have boarded a flight back to China in bespoke crates.

The two pandas were on a 10-year loan to Britain which was extended by two years, and in that time the lovable animals because a major visitor attraction.

But they are now on a flight to the Sichuan province after taking off earlier today.

The plane was stocked with crates of leaves and the pair are being transported in specially-crafted crates to keep them safe and comfortable on the China Southern cargo plane.

The plane took off just after 1.45pm and you can track it here.

The 13-hour flight has a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) keeper and vet, a Chinese keeper and airline official sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, while the rest of the seats have been taken out of the specially chartered China Southern plane.

The pandas will have health checks, food and water during the flight but the humans on board will have to heat up their own meals in the on-board microwave because there will be no cabin crew.

Their current estimated arrival is 6:35 local time, or 1:53 GMT. 

Male Yang Guang is one of the pandas being sent back to China from Edinburgh Zoo  

Yang Guang and Tian Tian, both 20-years-old, are the only giant pandas residing in the UK

The plane took off just after 1.45pm and you can track it on Flightradar

Yang Guang and Tian Tian, both 20-years-old, are the only giant pandas residing in the UK. But now they have boarded a flight back to China in bespoke crates

But they are now on a flight to the Sichuan province after taking off earlier today 

The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu, founded in 1987, claims to be a ‘world-class research facility and conservation education centre’ 

Visitors said their goodbyes to the mammals on Thursday, with the zoo then beginning preparations for them to return to the China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu.

The base, founded in 1987, is world-class research facility, conservation education centre, and international educational tourism destination’, winning the Global 500 Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement, the UN’s highest environmental award, twice.

Covering more than three square kilometers, the base has several luxury panda ‘villas’ tucked into the mountains and forests, allowing the bears to live together in the region with countless trees, streams and bamboo plants, as well as more than 700 species of plants and animals. 

To take the pandas to their new home, Edinburgh Zoo’s blacksmith Rab Clark constructed two bespoke metal crates complete with sliding padlock doors, pee trays and removable screens so the keepers can check on them during the flight to Sichuan.

The crates are 190cm long, 146cm high and 127cm wide, which the bears have been getting used to in the last few weeks.

Mr Clark told BBC News: ‘Although they look small, there’s actually quite a bit of room for them inside, it’s not tight.

People watch as giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian are loaded on to the  cargo plane

Cargo being loaded on to the Boeing 777F plane earlier today 

The pandas will have health checks, food and water during the flight

The 13-hour flight will have a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) keeper and vet

‘The keepers tell me what they’re looking for and what’s required so we work as a team to see what’s best for the animal.

‘I think they’ll be fine. I’m sure they’ll have a safe journey.’

The pandas have been in quarantine since the start of November and will also spend time in quarantine when they arrive in China to comply with animal health regulations.

The two bears have regular vet checks, including blood and faecal sampling, to ensure they are healthy and do not take any disease into China.

A low-loader transporter was hired to transfer the pandas from the zoo to Edinburgh Airport.

The pandas are usually late risers, so staff at the zoo had been gradually bringing forward their wake-up time to get them used to earlier starts. 

Visitors said their goodbyes to the bears on Thursday, November 30

The Panda Base wears its title as the sanctuary for giant pandas and red pandas

Crates of leaves were seen being loaded on to the China Southern cargo plane 

The China Wildlife Conservation Association base at Chengdu has won the Global 500 Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement, the UN’s highest environmental award

READ MORE – UK’s only giant pandas enjoy in-flight meal as bamboo is loaded on to their plane ahead of long journey back home to China after 12 years of failing to mate in Scotland 

The exact time was kept secret to reduce the chance of disruption from crowds of well-wishers or protest groups, as many feel the zoo should never have taken the pandas in the first place.

The RZSS keeper Michael Livingstone will give the pandas crate keys to the Chinese keeper and the pandas then become the responsibility of the Chinese, before they are placed in quarantine again.

RZSS staff are planning to visit Yang Guang and Tian Tian next year to check in on them.

The pandas return to China having failed to breed since arriving in Scotland more than 12 years ago.

Britain’s last pandas before Yang Guang and Tian Tian were Chia Chia and Ching Ching, who arrived in 1974 to be met by an excited Ted Heath.

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