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Giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang are now calling Edinburgh Zoo home after flying 5000 miles all the way from China in a specially-chartered non-stop flight.

The pandas – the first to live in Britain for 17 years – were greeted by bagpipers and a special delegation.

Crowds gathered at Edinburgh zoo to greet the pair, who have been loaned to Scotland from China for at least 10 years. It's hoped Tian Tian and Yang Guang, whose names mean ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Sunshine’, will eventually breed with each other.

It has taken months of preparation and five years of negotiation between Scotland and China to move the eight-year-old pandas, who arrived to wintry conditions in Edinburgh with temperatures of about 3C, having left temperatures of 10C at Chengdu Airport.

The pandas will have two weeks to get used to their new £250,000 enclosures at the zoo, which will grow 15 per cent of the bamboo needed to feed them, before going on display to visitors.

They were sent with good luck messages and artwork by more than 1000 Chinese children.

The FedEx plane – dubbed the ‘Panda Express – was piloted by Captain Paul Cassell who said it was “an absolute privilege” to bring them to Britain.

In their nine-hour journey, the pandas were treated to five-star service, and fed meals of bamboo, apples, carrots and a special ‘Panda Cake’.

Male panda Yang Guang is said to be outgoing and likes to roll around in the snow, while Tian Tian the female is more coy and shy.

Tian Tian has had twin cubs in the past, and Yang Guang has also fathered cubs - though not as a pair together. When Tian Tian comes into season the pair will be introduced to each other - possibly in February or March.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "I know we're all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the arrival of a little Mac panda sometime before too long."

Chinese Charge d'Affaires Qin Gang added: "The father of Yang Guang keeps the world record of fathering 107 panda cubs, and the mother of Tian Tian, known as Panda Mum, has also given birth to many baby pandas. I hope that this pair will carry the gene of their parents.

Animal welfare campaigners have criticised the zoo for accepting the pandas, saying it is a "primarily commercial deal".

They claim it is not a credible way to go about saving the giant panda.

The arrival of the pandas coincides with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's visit to China to promote business and cultural links.

Salmond said he would thank the Chinese Vice Premier, Li Keqiang, in a meeting to take place in Beijing on Monday.

He said: "The great gift of these giant pandas symbolises the great and growing relationship between Scotland and China, which we will take further forward tomorrow when Vice Premier Li and I meet and discuss Scotland and China's business, cultural and diplomatic links which are growing ever stronger to the benefit of both nations."


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Giant pandas arrive at Edinburgh Zoo from China
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