LONDON -- Two giant pandas from China landed yesterday in Scotland, where they will become the first to live in Britain in nearly two decades.
The 8-year-old pair, named Tian Tian and Yang Guang (Sweetie and Sunshine) were welcomed by bagpipers and a host of dignitaries as they touched down at Edinburgh Airport on a chartered Boeing 777 flight called the "Panda Express."
The pandas, from the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, are to stay for 10 years at Edinburgh Zoo, where it is hoped they will give birth to cubs. The female, Tian Tian, has had twin cubs in the past, but not with Yang Guang. The male panda has previously fathered cubs as well.
The loan of the animals, for which the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland will pay China more than $935,000 a year, marked the beginning of a U.K.-China research program on pandas. It was described as a signal of a growing friendship between Scotland and China. China often gives or lends the cuddly looking animals, considered a national treasure, to boost relations with other countries.
"It shows that we can cooperate closely, not only on commerce, but on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues as well," said British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Zoo officials have spent five years securing the loan of the animals, which are expected to boost Scottish tourism. The loan was announced in January, when Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited Britain to sign billions in trade deals.
The pandas, which were given an in-flight meal of bamboo, apples and carrots, will have two weeks to settle in at the zoo before going on display.
They will be kept in two separate enclosures for a few months until they are ready to be introduced to each other. The Zoological Society will also pay for importing bamboo from the Netherlands to feed them.
The zoo plans to put four hidden "panda cams" in their enclosures and stream the footage online to attract viewers from around the world.