Edinburgh Zoo: Giant Pandas and Annoying Flashers

I always have mixed feelings visiting zoos. On one hand, it is great seeing a variety of animals that you might never get to see in their natural habitats. However, viewing animals such as big cats in enclosures too small for them to run wild makes me feel sad.

Zoos have positive points. Many of them play an essential role in conservation projects and breeding programmes for endangered species.

I recently visited Edinburgh Zoo to see the pair of giant pandas brought over from China – Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

These cuddly creatures are big crowd pullers and visitors have to pre-book their 20-minute slot to see them, which is included in the general ticket price.

If you are planning on visiting Edinburgh Zoo, I have heard the best time of the day to see the pandas is around 2pm to 3pm.

This is when they are most likely to be awake.

A sleepy Tian Tian

Why are the pandas in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh Zoo’s website states:

“One of the key roles of zoos is to contribute to international breeding programmes to help conserve endangered species. Prior to the recent earthquake in Sichuan province it was estimated only 1,500 to 2,000 giant pandas remained in the wild and they are therefore classified as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is not known how many survived this natural disaster but the need for a worldwide captive breeding programme is now justified more than ever before.

The Conservation Breeding Specialist Group for giant pandas at the IUCN states that, in order to ensure the survival of giant pandas, there should be a captive population of 300 – there are currently only around 200.

By participating in the breeding programme for giant pandas we would be contributing to this goal and making a tangible difference to the future of this amazing species.”

This sounds like a good reason to me. We went to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo at around 10am and only the female was available for viewing. She was sound asleep, at least until some ignorant twits decided to ignore several warnings not to use a flash on their camera.

Her peaceful sleep had been well and truly disturbed, though I am sure she was accustomed to this circus by now.

The zoo keeper had to repeatedly tell people to turn their flashes off. She even offered to help those that did not know how to turn the flash off. But still people did what they wanted and carried on snapping away thoughtlessly. This made my blood boil.

It turned out that the pandas sleep for around 20 hours a day. Similar to koala bears, their plant diet does not provide much sustenance, hence they have not got the energy to do much else.

Pandas are solitary creatures and this is why Tian Tian and Yang Guang have separate enclosures. However there is a peeping hole to allow them to see each other and hopefully check each other out and eventually decide to get it on.

The chances of them breeding seems like a longshot considering female pandas are only fertile for one day a year.

As we wandered past the sun bear enclosure, a presentation was underway. We heard how the bears had been rescued after years of abuse in the hands of Russia’s illegal pet industry. Is rescuing animals from situations such as this another positive element of zoos?

But then I saw big cats looking seemingly sad and bored behind panes of glass, some hiding in the shadows to avoid the same inconsiderate people and their camera flashes.

How do you feel about visiting zoos? Do you have mixed emotions?




  1. March 12, 2012 / 21:22

    I also have mixed feelings about zoos. I was what you could probably refer to as a zookeeper, although where I worked was smaller than most zoos and the animal “collections” consisted mainly of reptiles like snakes turtles, and alligators; birds of prey; bats; and aquatic stuff like fish, sharks, eels, etc…

    Many of the animals were rescued – like the birds of prey and some of the snakes – but others were there just to bring in the tourists. The conditions and cage sizes many of the animals lived in were inadequate, but even in the largest zoo, space is always an issue.

    Like most things in life that have a slightly noble aspect to them, the good cause is bastardized by the requirement for money. You can’t run captive breeding and rehabilitation programs without lots of cash and you can’t get lots of cash if you don’t give people what they want – and what they want is spectacle. People don’t want to see an endangered lizard that sits under a rock all day – they want to see lions and tigers and bears. They want to see LOTS of animals – they’re not going to go to a zoo with just a llama and a zebra, they want to see hundreds of animals. They want to pay money for an “encounter” with a wild animal.

    And so, the nobler benefits of zoos are quickly lost in shuffle to get more cash and before you know it, they start training the animals to do tricks and perform for shows.

    So – I don’t care much for zoos. I care for some of the people in zoos – the scientists and keepers and vets who are still in it for the nobler cause, even if that cause is often lost on the corporate vice presidents and marketing directors who think that Panda is just another word for “big bucks”.
    Nick the Editor recently posted..My First Summit: Glacier PeakMy Profile

    • March 14, 2012 / 18:41

      Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. It’s interesting getting your perspective as you’ve actually worked in a zoo type environment before :-)

  2. March 12, 2012 / 22:45

    I have very mixed feelings about visiting zoos too. I LOVE seeing the animals, they’re so beautiful but at the same time it makes me a bit sad to see them in cages that sometimes seem too small.
    Beverley | Pack Your Passport recently posted..What Did You Come Here For?My Profile

    • March 14, 2012 / 18:49

      Hi Beverley, It’s a difficult one isn’t it. I feel exactly the same. It’s great seeing and learning about the animals, and the conservation work carried out seems to be necessary, but I always leave feeling a bit guilty and uncertain about the ethics of animals in captivity.
      Alison recently posted..Edinburgh Zoo: Giant Pandas and Annoying FlashersMy Profile