The two giant pandas which have been housed at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 will return to China in December this year.

Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian (Sweetie), a male and a female arrived on a 10-year loan - which was later extended - from the Bifengxia Breeding Centre.

It was hoped that the pair would produce cubs, but despite several attempts at artificial insemination none were ever born.

Earlier this year it was announced that Yang Guang and Tian Tian would return to China after the end of the agreement, and Edinburgh Zoo has now confirmed that take place in December - likely in the first two weeks of the month.

From November panda viewing will be outdoor only, with the zoo planning a "giant farewell" to the pandas.

The Herald: Yáng Guāng, which means 'sunshine' in ChineseYáng Guāng, which means 'sunshine' in Chinese (Image: Edinburgh Zoo)

Alison Maclean, carnivore team leader at Edinburgh Zoo said, “We are making arrangements with our partners in China for Yang Guang and Tian Tian to return in early December, possibly during the first week.

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“Visitors to the zoo can expect to see them indoors and outside until the end of November, after which viewing will be outdoors only until they leave.

“Having cared for Yang Guang and Tian Tian since they arrived in 2011, I will be travelling back to China with them, to help them settle into their new homes."

The giant panda is reliant on conservation to survive, with farming and deforestation destryong its natural habitat.

Estimates vary as to how many exist in the wild, but range from around 1,500 to 3,000.

The panda has the genes and digestive system of a carnivore, but lives almost entirely on bamboo from which it derives very little nutrition.

Pandas are born with sterile intestines and require bacteria obtained from their mother's feces to digest vegetation.

Due to the limited nutrional value of its diet, the species must consume up to 14kg per day of bamboo to survive, meaning it's particularly vulnerable to deforestation and the clearing of its food source for farm lands though the animals will eat meat, fish, and eggs when available.

David Field, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland chief executive, said, “With more than a million species at risk of extinction and our natural world in crisis, Yang Guang and Tian have had an incredible impact by inspiring millions of people to care about nature.

The Herald:

“Through scientific research alongside the University of Edinburgh, we have also made a significant contribution to our understanding of giant pandas, which will be of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China.

“It is encouraging that in recent years the outlook for giant pandas in the wild has improved, which gives real hope for the future.”

All giant pandas across the world are owned by the Chinese government, regardless of where they are born.

In a process unofficially known as 'panda diplomacy', the Beijing government gifted the creatures to other countries from 1941 to 1984 but since then have leased them.

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The first was gifted to the Soviet Union in 1957, while British Prime Minister Edward Heath specifically asked for a pair of pandas on a visit to Beijing in 1974.

Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching arrived at London Zoo, which had seen its previous pandas die a few years earlier, a few months later.

The pair inspired the logo of the World Wildlife Fund.

The first panda on UK soil was Ming, a female panda who was captured by hunters and sold to Britain by a Japanese-American hunter named Floyd Tangier-Smith.

He initially had six of the animals, one of which died on the crossing to Europe, with the bears chained inside their cages, exposed to the elements on an open deck.

Tangier-Smith sold one of the remaining pandas to Nazi Germany, and three to the Zoological Society of London.

They were named Tang, Sung and Ming after China's imperial dynasty with the last the first to set paw on British soil.

The two older pandas died in 1939 and 1940 respectively, and in 1943 Ming began walking backward and losing her fur.

She had a fit on Boxing Day on 1944 and died soon after, though her pelt was stuffed and taken on a lucrative tour of the country by London taxidermist Edward Gerrard.