Edinburgh Zoo's beloved giant pandas have started their long journey home.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian are making their return journey to China after 12 years as the only examples of their vulnerable species in Britain. 

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

Read more: Edinburgh Zoo giant panda departure date announced

"That added interest in the panda’s departure this year has allowed us to connect many more people with the conservation causes that RZSS is actively involved with, and with nature more generally."

Scientific research from the zoo's veterinary and keeper teams alongside experts at the University of Edinburgh has made a "significant contribution" to humans' understanding of giant panda fertility, husbandry, and veterinary care, Mr Field said.  

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

Why are the Giant Pandas leaving Edinburgh Zoo? When did they arrive?

The Herald: Giant panda at Edinburgh ZooGiant panda at Edinburgh Zoo

The Giant Pandas arrived at Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011 as part of a 10 year agreement between RZSS and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. 

This was later extended by another two years following the Covid pandemic. It was hoped the pair would breed and bring rare giant panda cubs into the world.

However, the zoo said both natural and artificial insemination breeding attempts have not been successful. 

The pandas are now returning to China where they will live at a sanctuary in Chengdu.

When are the Giant Pandas leaving Edinburgh Zoo and when is the last chance to see them?

The Giant Pandas left Edinburgh Zoo on Monday, December 4, 2023. 

Visitors' last chance to see the pair was on Thursday November 30. After that, the zoo restricted access to the pandas' enclosures as they prepared for their long journey. 

They will each travel in a specially designed metal crate on the flight to China, accompanied by a keeper from Edinburgh Zoo and an RZSS vet.

Michael Livingstone, a senior animal keeper at the zoo, will join them on the journey.

He described looking after the pandas as the “highlight of my career” and said he will be sad to see them go.

Mr Livingstone said: “It is sad for us that they are going back, I think it’s always been one of those things that’s just been in the future and now we’re at the point where it’s actually happening.”