What better way to enjoy a day at the Edinburgh Zoo then with umbrella in hand and water-logged shoes on an authentic rainy day in Scotland.
Our first visit was to see the UK’s only giant pandas, here at the Edinburgh Zoo. The Edinburgh Zoo offers a unique experience when it comes to visiting their giant pandas. For the safety and serenity of the pandas you must book a time to visit them, group sizes are limited and so are the number of group visits a day. At first this might seem a bit of a pain but once your appointed time has come you quickly realize the rewards of this process. With small group sizes you’re not struggling for a view, plus along with the controlled timing you get a “Panda Guide” who introduces you to the pandas and their environments. Our “Panda Guide”, as I dubbed him, was a young gentleman, led us past the Chinese style pagoda gate with red Chinese lanterns and written on two of the posts were each of the panda’s names written in their Chinese characters, and on into a pavilion which housed their indoor enclosures. Here he introduced us to Tian Tian (meaning sweetie), the female, and Yang Guang (meaning sunshine), the male, both 9 years old. Giant Pandas are only able to breed once a year in a small time frame, and though there was much effort on the part of both the pandas and the keepers, this year was unsuccessful. But there is still hope as Tian Tian is a proven breeder and even had twins which is quite rare for giant pandas. Our guide spoke of pandas in general, about conservation efforts for the less than 1600 mature pandas in the wild and fondly spoke of the distinct personalities of these particular pandas. I love giant pandas – who doesn’t love an adorable oversized teddy bear? – but it’s not just their sweet look that tugs at my heart-strings it’s their iconic image that, with the help of WWF (World Wildlife Fund), became a symbol for wildlife conservation.
As most bears love to slumber it was no surprise to me that they were both having an early afternoon siesta. But being the “sweetie” that she is Tian Tian appeared to be posing as she slumbered resting her head on her paws and occasionally opened an eye to check us out. All the while Yang Guang was totally out cold, spread out in his nest/bed with his big belly gently rising and falling, the only activity we’d see out of him.
After saying sweet dreams to the pair we were guided down a bamboo lined trail to their outdoor enclosures which were spacious with plenty of structures to climb on and lush greenery. Something I learned on the tour was that Scotland’s climate is similar to that of the giant panda’s native home, making it comfortable for them year round to be outside if they so pleased. I’ve visited various zoos that have housed giant pandas and this was the only time I’d had a “Panda Guide” and I am thankful for the charming experience.
After the visit to the giant pandas our group broke up and everyone went their separate ways, ours led us to the Indian one-horned rhino house where I came to learn about the Socorro dove. Once endemic to the Socorro Island off the coast of Mexico, the Socorro dove is now extinct in the wild. But with the aid of the EEP (European Endangered Species breeding program) and the Edinburgh Zoo there is hope as they try to build up their captive population in hope to reintroduce these delicate and unassuming beautiful birds back into the wild.
On our way to the Budongo Trail exhibit we passed what I felt was a great exhibit for their buff-cheeked gibbons. This large, outdoor enclosure had lush foliage, plenty of trees and tons of ropes at various levels and directions, this is key for gibbons as their main form of getting around is brachiating (using their arms to swing from one hold to another). Though I was slightly disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see them, I wasn’t surprised as the amount of foliage in there and the fact that they were probably hiding from the rain. I never, as a zoo visitor, get discouraged when I don’t see an animal in its exhibit, especially in a large, dense enclosure like this, as to me it proves the exhibit is a good one because it shows it’s large enough and provides much-needed cover for the inhabitants to feel safe.
Along the trails we found hidden gems in the shapes of old stone statues, one of a young lad surrounded by pretty flowers and another of an adult orangutan and its young, tucked away awaiting the curious eye. It was the attention to detail, like these statues and the ropes in the gibbon enclosure, which really stood out and surprised me on my visit to the Edinburgh Zoo.