Christmas at the Zoo (with Pandas!)

Giant Panda: Tian Tian
Giant Panda: Tian Tian © 2012 Janice Duke

I don’t really do Christmas. Not because I don’t like it or anything, more because it’s not something I grew up with. It’s nice to join in with what other people get up to though, and I’ll happily take any excuse to have a good time. My partner likes to go to the Zoo, and has been going to Edinburgh Zoo on Christmas day for years with his parents. I’ve tagged along for the last couple, and it’s a lot of fun, despite the inevitable cold. The first time it was very quiet, which meant we had all the displays and animals pretty much to ourselves (kind of the point), but this year it was busy. Why? Giant Pandas, of course.

Edinburgh’s two Giant Pandas, on loan from China, are called Tian Tian and Yang Guang, or Sweetie and Sunshine. We could only get in to see them for a limited time, as you have to book in advance, but it was well worthwhile. What a pair of characters! Their names say it all. Tian Tian was just lovely, lazing around on a rock looking a little shy but very happy, a total Sweetie, while Yang Guang sat in his enclosure totally relaxed, leisurely munching away on bamboo right next to the window so everyone could see him. Not shy at all. A beaming fuzzy Sunshine.

While we were allowed in to see them our very knowledgeable guide explained that they are extremely territorial animals, so will be kept apart except for when Tian Tian comes into season, which only happens four days a year. Speaking as a human female, the idea of being able to conceive only four days a year sounds wonderful (though I wouldn’t want to be separated from my partner the rest of the time!). Add to this that at birth baby pandas are usually only about 1/900th of their mother’s weight and one begins to think that female Pandas are on to a good thing! In captivity, Giant Pandas also apparently enjoy a special treat developed by Chinese Zoo keepers called ‘Panda Cake’, made with a closely guarded recipe involving bamboo, and we also learned that, contrary to popular belief, they are not exclusively vegetarian, although they do not actively pursue meat and only eat it rarely. I can relate to that.

Apart from the Pandas I also had a great time watching their apparently rather jealous rival attraction, the Penguins. The story goes that certain Penguins had become so annoyed at all the attention the Pandas were getting that they were chucking poo at visitors passing to get to the panda habitat! Haha! They have since been prevented from anymore faecal flinging, thankfully. One of my favourite parts of Edinburgh Zoo has to be the glass enclosure in which you can see the penguins swimming underwater. It’s absolutely magic, and they’re very curious so will often swim right up to you. Needless to say, the Pandas, Penguins and all the other animals inspired me. There’s nothing like a trip to the Zoo to make me want to create something!

Even though they had to close early because of high winds we all had a great time.

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