With fewer than 2,500 giant pandas left in the wild and 312 living in captivity, every breeding pair is vital to the continued survival of the species. Little wonder that the imminent arrival in Britain of a couple with a successful reproductive history – the first pandas to be in the UK for 17 years – has been eagerly anticipated by conservationists and animal lovers.
But only months before Tian Tian and Yang Guang move into their new home, the crisis engulfing their soon-to-be hosts at Edinburgh Zoo deepened yesterday as the chairman of the historic institution was forced to quit. Announcing his decision to stand down, Donald Emslie said recent events had been "incredibly difficult" after months of controversy in which the zoo has been beset by smears and infighting.
Last week he was overwhelmingly defeated in a no-confidence vote by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). "As a board we have been dealing with a malicious and untrue attacks on both the society and a member of the senior management team," Mr Emslie said.
Last week an inquiry cleared the zoo's acting head, Gary Wilson, who had been the victim of what was described as a "deeply unpleasant and malicious smear campaign". He was suspended after several anonymous allegations.