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Director of giant pandas quits Edinburgh Zoo

Giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo

The director in charge of giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo has resigned his position following the zoo’s decision to stop its breeding programme.

Iain Valentine from Edinburgh Zoo, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland RZSS
Iain Valentine. Image: c. LinkedIn.

Iain Valentine, director of animals, conservation and education for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), quit his job last month and after more than a decade with the organisation. Valentine played a key role in the acquisition of two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, by Edinburgh Zoo in 2011.

An RZSS spokeswoman said: “RZSS can confirm that Iain Valentine has moved on from the society to pursue new interests.

“Iain played a key role in the society’s contribution to the worldwide panda conservation programme over many years, including research and science.”

RZSS, which runs Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, loaned the pandas from China for $1m a year for 10 years. On Monday, the society announced that it had stopped its giant panda breeding programme for at least a year after repeated failures to successfully produce cubs through artificial insemination.

A zoo source told the Guardian that there was no connection between the decision to stop breeding attempts and Valentine’s departure.

RZSS tried natural mating with the bears once, in 2012, but this was unsuccessful. It subsequently attempted artificial insemination with Yang Guang’s semen followed by defrosted semen from a bear that had previously successfully bred at Berlin zoo.

In total, RZSS failed five times at breeding through artificial insemination. Tian Tian had twins in China in 2009.

A statement on the RZSS website said: “This pause, which is supported by our giant panda team and other key specialists, will allow us further time to consider the scientific data, our own experiences and those of colleagues around the world, including the latest thinking on giant panda accommodation.

“We routinely use data and learning to inform our approach to breeding, with the successful mating of our polar bears Victoria and Arktos and the birth of their cub at our Highland Wildlife Park a good example.”

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