Last chance to see pandas at Edinburgh Zoo before they head home to China

The curtain is coming down on Scotland's panda show.

For more than a decade the large furry animals have been the star attraction of Edinburgh Zoo, but time is up for the most famous duo in town.

Yang Guang, a male giant panda, and female Tian Tian first arrived in December 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years due to the COVID pandemic.

Access to the panda enclosure will be restricted from 3.30pm on Thursday as preparations to return the animals get under way.

Yang Guang, whose name means Sunshine in Mandarin, and Tian Tian (Sweetie) will then be kept out of public sight before they make the long journey home in December.

The giant pandas, who were both born in August 2003, captivated the hearts of many but they have not been cheap.

They came with a whole lot of hope and a hefty price tag of $1m (£800,000) every year.

When the pair first touched down in Scotland they arrived in the capital to a huge fanfare as fans lined the streets outside the popular visitor attraction.

The animals were used as a gag by the then first minister Alex Salmond, who boasted that Scotland was home to more pandas than Conservative MPs.

The aim was for them to produce the pitter-patter of tiny paws, but it is no secret the headline act failed to breed panda cubs despite mammoth efforts by zoo experts.

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There were years of relentless headlines reporting their every move.

At one point during a prolonged and controversial programme of artificial insemination, passionate and dedicated staff apparently had CCTV monitors installed in their own homes to watch every twist and turn.

The dream of having a cub born for the first time on British soil gradually faded and so did the panda's stardom.

Despite a huge boost to visitor numbers over the decade, the animals slid from the consciousness of the public in recent years.

Tensions with animal rights campaigners are not new.

But, the group One Kind believes attitudes have evolved during the pandas' Scottish stint. It claims the days of using the "exploitation of animals as entertainment" are over.

Clearly Edinburgh Zoo would refute any negative accusations.

The pandas were part of a big PR machine.

Some initially feared they could have diverted political and public attention away from China's human rights record. Those claims never really materialised.

Nevertheless, the pandas and their diplomatic baggage will depart Scotland in the coming days. They'll leave in the same way they arrived - on a private jet.

They'll no doubt tuck into an inflight meal of bamboo as they step away from the UK limelight and head home for a quiet life away from the daily scores of gawking visitors.