Debbie Clarke: I’ve been caught up in the panda-monium

Debbie Clarke'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON
Debbie Clarke'Photo ; WALTER NEILSON
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I have decided to plan a trip to Edinburgh Zoo to see the giant pandas.

I have always loved pandas, they are amazing creatures and I can’t wait to get up close and personal with them!

It appears their arrival in Scotland has gone down well - as planned - and as a result, visitor numbers at the zoo are up 200 per cent!

So far, around 70,000 people have seen Tian Tian (the female) and Yang Guang since they went on public display in December - more than three times the number who visited the attraction in the same period of 2010.

According to figures released by the zoo, around 1000 cuddly panda toys have been bought from the shop each week since the animals went on public show! (I will also be buying one!)

I thought you had to pay extra to view the pandas but after having a look at the Edinburgh Zoo website, it appears visitors are not charged extra to enter the panda enclosure, but time slots need to be reserved due to the high demand.

I have always thought pandas to be such quiet creatures, very placid. Whenever I have seen them on wildlife programmes, they always seem to be at their happiest when eating bamboo!

I will have plenty of time to see them though as Edinburgh Zoo will be their home for the next ten years. But what I am most excited about is the prospect of little panda cubs.

Cubs

I am sure that visitor numbers are bound to soar if cubs are born and if that does happen, I know I will definitely be back for another visit!

However, the odds are stacked quite high against this happening as female pandas are only able to conceive once a year and apparently only come into heat for two to four days.

This is only one incredible fact I have learned since researching giant pandas. I know the animals are an endangered species but according to the most recent survey, there are less than 1600 male giant pandas in the wild. They are also rarely seen outside China.

Don’t get me wrong, while I think it is fantastic to give people the chance to see them up close and personal without having to leave the country, I am not generally a fan of zoos.

In fact the last time I was in one I was abroad, but I was so upset by the way the animals were treated, I vowed never to set foot in another one.

Cramped

Their cages were very cramped - it didn’t look like there was enough room to swing a cat in some of them, never mind house a lion. It was the same with the fish and the dolphins - some of them looked like they were swimming in a bucket, never mind a pool.

Some of the animals just didn’t look like they were being cared for properly and it is very upsetting to see this. However, I do realise this was a zoo abroad and perhaps they don’t have the same standard of care for animals as we do in this country.

It has been a long long time since I paid a visit to Edinburgh Zoo.

I think I may have even been younger than ten when I last went with my parents.

I think the closest place I used to go to visit animals was the enclosure in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline. There used to be all sorts of creatures housed there including exotic birds, parrots and monkeys as well as sheep, llamas, rabbits and peacocks.

But I seem to recall the animals at Edinburgh Zoo being much more impressive. I remember watching the penguins on parade and there used to be giraffes too although I don’t think there are anymore.

Now it is the pandas I really want to see, but I am also looking forward to seeing koalas, lions, tigers, monkeys and exotic birds.

All I have to do now is find a date in my diary to pencil in a visit!

*Debbie Clarke writes for the Fife Free Press