2 giant pandas from China land in Scotland

December 4, 2011 - 10:15 AM
China Britain Pandas

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, an elderly woman sees off the pandas in Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011. As part of a ten-year joint research program, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the pair of giant pandas, were set off for the Edinburgh Zoo from the Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center in Sichuan here on Saturday, Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Li Qiaoqiao) NO SALES

LONDON (AP) — Two giant pandas from China landed Sunday in Scotland, where they will become the first pandas to live in Britain in nearly two decades.

The 8-year-old pair, named Tian Tian and Yang Guang — or Sweetie and Sunshine — were welcomed by bagpipe players and a host of dignitaries as they touched down at Edinburgh Airport on a specially chartered Boeing 777 flight called the "Panda Express."

The pandas, from the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, are to stay for 10 years at Edinburgh Zoo, where officials hope they will give birth to cubs. The female, Tian Tian, has had twin cubs in the past, but not with Yang Guang. The male panda has previously fathered cubs as well.

The Scottish government has said the loan of the pandas symbolizes a "growing friendship" between Scotland and China.

China sometimes gifts or lends the cuddly looking animals — considered a Chinese national treasure — to other countries as a sign of cooperation.

In 1974, British Prime Minister Edward Heath received two pandas from the Chinese government as a goodwill gift to mark his visit to China. Female Ching-Ching and male Chia-Chia became a much-loved attraction at the London Zoo, but never produced any cubs.

Zoo officials have spent the past five years securing the loan of the animals, which are expected to boost Scottish tourism.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland will pay more than 600,000 pounds ($935,000) a year to China for the loan of Sweetie and Sunshine, not including the expense of imported bamboo.

Britain's last giant panda, Ming Ming, lived in the London Zoo until 1994, when she was returned to China.