China Southern freighter repatriates two pandas from the UK back to China 

Vytautas Kielaitis / Shutterstock

China Southern Cargo was tasked with flying a particularly precious cargo from the UK to Chengdu. 

One of the airline’s Boeing 777 freighters departed Edinburgh Airport (EDI) at 13:40 local time on December 4, 2023, to repatriate two giant pandas that have been on loan by the Chinese authorities to Edinburgh Zoo for the past 12 years. 

The pandas, a female named Tian Tian and a male named Yang Guang, departed from Edinburgh Airport bound for Chengdu Shuanglui International Airport (CTU) following the relatively short and uneventful drive from the city’s zoo.  

The creatures were originally due to be loaned to the zoo for ten years in 2011, although this was extended by two years due to the pandemic. 

The pandas traveled in two bespoke metal crates with sliding padlock doors, toilet trays, and removable screens so that their keepers could check on their wellbeing throughout the flight. These boxes are 190cm long, 146cm high, and 127cm wide – roughly 6ft by 5ft by 4ft. 

The pandas were accompanied on the 13-hour flight by a keeper from Edinburgh Zoo along with a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland vet and a Chinese representative. It is expected the animals will be quarantined for a brief period before being introduced to their new home in Sichuan province, China. 

Zookeepers and conservationists had all been hoping that the pandas would breed during their time in Scotland. However, the animals were unable to conceive despite several attempts being made.  

Edinburgh Zoo and veterinarian experts from China also made eight unsuccessful attempts at artificial insemination between the pair. The last attempt was in 2021, after which the giant panda breeding program was concluded.  

The aircraft that flew the pandas back to their homeland arrived at Chengdu Airport just before 07:00 local time on December 5, with the two pandas reportedly having arrived fit and well after their flight from the UK, according to the Chinese authorities.  

China Southern Cargo sent its Boeing 777-200F B-223N to carry the VIPs (Very Important Pandas) back to China. The aircraft had arrived at London-Stansted Airport (STN) from Guangzhou (CAN) on the morning of December 4 before taking the short ferry flight north to Edinburgh after spending around 90 minutes on the ground at Stansted.  

This particular aircraft is one of the newest in China Southern’s freighter fleet, having only been delivered to the carrier from Boeing in May 2023. 

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