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Pandas get first public showing

The public has been given the chance to see two giant pandas as they went on display for the first time since arriving from China.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been getting used to their new home in Edinburgh Zoo since they arrived on Sunday December 4.

The eight-year-olds spent the first few days recovering from the long flight and acclimatising to their enclosures, away from public view.

On Friday members of the public filed past the two enclosures in groups of around 25, where they took photographs and were given a short talk by a zoo guide.

Zoo bosses said around 600 visitors have pre-booked to see the pandas, a 200% increase on the usual gate numbers for a mid-December Friday.

Denise Stronach, 46, from East Kilbride, said she was the first one through the gates.

She said: "It was absolutely fantastic. I'm ecstatic. I can't believe I was the first one. As soon as I knew the pandas were coming to Scotland, I kept coming into the zoo every time I was through in Edinburgh, asking: are they here yet?

"As soon as I found out the exact date, that was it. I was right down to be first on the list. I want them to have a wee baby and I want to be first to see that as well.

"It's a big thing for Scotland. It will bring so much tourism here."

Lesley MacNiven, 40, from Edinburgh, took her two young daughters to see the bears.

She said: "We are zoo members and we come at least once a month. The girls aren't at nursery on a Friday, so we thought: why not come on the first day?

"They've been following all the news reports and have been really keen to see the pandas, so it's been absolutely great. I've loved pandas myself since I was a child, so it was amazing to see them in real life.

"The enclosure looks fantastic. The panda looks quite at home there and not bothered about the visitors, which is lovely to see.

"I think that's a real privilege for the zoo to have them and a real testament to the good work that they do here. It will attract more people to Edinburgh and the zoo and that can only be a good thing."

Pre-booked visitor numbers for this weekend are up by about 80% on usual expectations for a pre-Christmas winter weekend, the zoo said.

A "panda patrol" of 14 trained helpers will guide the expected influx of visitors keen to set eyes on female Tian Tian, whose name means Sweetie, and male bear Yang Guang, or Sunshine.

Edinburgh Zoo is their home for the next 10 years and it is hoped that the breeding pair, the first pandas in the UK for 17 years, will produce cubs during their stay.

The animals' arrival from Ya'an reserve in Chengdu, China, is the result of five years of work to bring them to Scotland.

Edinburgh Zoo is now one of only 13 zoos in the world with pandas.

Zoo chief executive Hugh Roberts said it is wonderful to see the visitors' initial reactions to seeing the bears.

He said: "We've been working for this moment for so, so long. When you get the public coming in, it's a moment that says it all because the pandas are here for everybody in the UK and everybody in Scotland. So to say: They're here; come and have a look at them; enjoy them, it's a great day.

"Ten thousand people have booked online pretty swiftly (to see the animals) in a cold, wet December. So I think that's a good start."

Mr Roberts said he expects visitors to come from all over the world to see the pandas.

"We fully expect lots of repeat visitors, lots of visitors from abroad and, of course, as everybody's been talking about, we expect cubs," he said.

The pandas have settled in "fantastically" to their new home, he added.

Speaking of Yang Guang on the day he arrived, Mr Roberts said: "It was as though he'd been there forever. He was just pacing round, scent marking, eating bamboo. It was his home.

"She went to sleep and the next morning woke up and she was just the same. Since then it's been more of the same."

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