This week, pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian are set to begin their journey back to China, having spent 12 years on ‘loan’ in Edinburgh Zoo. Edinburgh-based animal welfare charity, OneKind, has been critical of the keeping of pandas at the Zoo and hopes that people will reflect upon changing attitudes towards the captivity of wild animals for entertainment. 

The charity highlights their concerns with the continuous artificial insemination procedures peformed on Tian Tian, the outdated notion of animals as diplomatic ‘gifts’ and the misleading claims of conservation. 

OneKind Campaigner and Press Officer, Eve Massie Bishop said: 

OneKind has never supported the keeping of pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and we have voiced our concerns continuously throughout the past 12 years. 

"There is no good reason to keep pandas captive in zoos. It is generally not possible to meet the needs of wild animals in a captive environment. It also cannot be said confining the pandas to enclosures, simply for people to look at them, is in the best interests of these animals. 

"Conservation of species is used to defend the existence of zoos, but this often means ‘preservation' where the animal remains at a zoo for life. Conservation of species is most likely to succeed when carried out in the animals’ native habitat".   

On the artificial insemination procedures on female panda Tian Tian, Eve commented: 

“During her captivity at Edinburgh Zoo, female panda Tian Tian was also repeatedly subjected to invasive artificial insemination procedures in a bid for her to produce a panda cub for the zoo. Unlike a human mother who makes a choice to undergo these procedures, Tian Tian had no choice. 

“Even if Tian Tian had produced cubs, these individuals would never have returned to the wild, nor strengthened the numbers of the wild population”. 

On the return of the pandas to China, Eve stated: 

We hope that as the pandas embark on their journey back to China, the Scottish public will reflect upon changing attitudes towards zoos and the exploitation of animals for entertainment in the past 12 years since the pandas arrived in Edinburgh. 

"The idea of animal diplomacy in 2023 - the exchange of a sentient individual as a diplomatic ‘gift’- is quite frankly outdated. So too is the belief that it is justifiable to keep wild animals in an enclosure solely for entertainment purposes. Wild animals belong in the wild”

Main image: Tian Tian in Edinburgh zoo. © Brendan Howard/Shutterstock