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Panda - monium; Maria Breslin enjoys an audience with two celebrity bears during a trip to the zoo.

Byline: Maria Breslin

THEY''RE the Posh and Becks of the giant panda world - private jets, his and hers swimming pools and a cool pounds 250,000 pad. Endangered A-listers Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) jetted into Edinburgh late last year aboard the specially-chartered FedEx Panda Express. A one-off tartan was commissioned to celebrate their arrival and they were greeted at the airport by bagpipers and a host of Scottish dignitaries. An organic nursery, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, is tasked with growing the top-quality bamboo needed to feed their pounds 70,000-a-year habit.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang''s highprofile relocation was the result of a pounds 640,000-a-year deal struck with the Giant Panda Conservation and Research Centre in China''s Sichuan Province. Edinburgh Zoo bosses believe "panda-mania" will see an additional one million guests pass through the gates during the bears'' 10-year stay in Scotland. Although the sums already appear a little conservative - early reports suggest visitor figures are up a whopping 200%.

But the real prize, of course, is the pitter-patter of tiny panda feet and both bears, eight-years-old and in their prime, have a track record in reproduction. Tian Tian previously gave birth to twins while Yang Guang is already a dad. Whether the pair will get it together while shacked up in the Scottish capital is the million- dollar question. Pandas bred in captivity have a notoriously low sex drive and Tian Tian has just a two-to-three day mating window of opportunity each spring. Zoo-keepers, quite sensibly, are leaving nothing to chance. Tests are being carried out daily to determine exactly when Tian Tian might be most receptive to Yang Guang's amorous advances and her luxury enclosure boasts its own maternity suite complete with incubator. Eat your heart out Beyonce.

An audience with the pandas is included in the zoo's admission cost but visitors must reserve a 20-minute viewing slot to ensure everyone has the chance to get close and personal with these gentle giants. Rockhoppers from the neighbouring penguin pool, presumably jealous at having been usurped as the zoo's main attraction, have reportedly been pooping on panda fans queuing up for their big moment. Our wait was thankfully dropping free - though sadly once inside the enclosure we find Tian Tian and Yang Guang sound asleep. Somehow they still don''t disappoint and the sight of these critically-endangered big bears snoozing only enhances their undeniable cuteness. The tour guides are both extremely interesting and informative while the smile which spreads slowly across my eight-year-old''s face as she catches her first glimpse of the cuddly pair ? Turn to Page 24 TRAVEL TIPS HOLIDAY Inn Edinburgh has teamed up with Edinburgh Zoo to offer a Giant Panda Package.

The offer includes two nights accommodation for a family of four (two adults and two children under the age of 13), full Scottish Breakfast each morning, a three-course meal, entrance to the zoo and an allocated panda viewing time.

For a quote or to book call Holiday Inn on 0131 314 7027 and quote 2NIGHTPANDA or log on to A panda viewing reservation must be made no less than 48 hours in advance of your stay on 0131 314 7027 or by email. One-night packages are also available.

Go to to catch a glimpse of Yang Guang. makes the 220-mile journey north of the border more than worthwhile. Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the undoubted stars of the show but they face some stiff competition from fellow residents. Edinburgh is the only zoo in the UK to house koalas - more cute bears who like nothing more than a quick forty winks. Much more active are the highenergy, value-for-money squirrel monkeys whose tricks and capers have us all in stitches. Eva is enamoured by her namesake chimp while the beautiful, bobbing but endangered Bali Starling and vulnerable, playful sun bears are both surprise hits among the 1,000 animals living in the zoo's parkland setting. The 4* Holiday Inn, situated three miles outside Edinburgh city centre on the

Corstorphine Road, is perfectly positioned to cash in on Tian Tian and Yang Guang's overnight celebrity and its Panda packages are proving unsurprisingly popular. Less than two-minutes' walk from the zoo's main entrance we can hear the call of the Chilean flamingoes and the antics of Cheeky, the aptlynamed capuchin monkey, from our spacious family bedroom on the fifth floor. An unprecedented 700-plus guests checked in during the February half-term break weekend making a reservation for the spa and a swim in the hotel's indoor heated pool a must. And the queues for hot breakfast in the Trader's restaurant are understandably lengthy. But the patient and super-smiley staff cope admirably with the clamour and everything runs like clockwork. Children under the age of 13 eat free at the Holiday Inn and there are plenty of pandainspired activities on offer to keep them happy. The far eastern influence even extends to the hotel's second eaterie Sampans where grown-ups can dine handsomely on fine pan-asian cuisine. Tian Tian and Yang Guang have firmly put Edinburgh on the family weekend-away map. And the pitter patter of panda feet should ensure that's exactly where it stays. The pressure's on.


VISIT: Eva at the zoo
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 13, 2012
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