Despite being peddled to the public and press as a ground-breaking conservation initiative, a government official confirmed that the "panda deal" was "primarily a commercial transaction". Naturally solitary animals, Tian Tian and Yang Guang were subjected to almost constant scrutiny from the moment they arrived. 810,937 visitors reportedly passed through the zoo in their first year, some of those during specially-arranged "out of hours" panda experiences so that even the time during which the zoo was normally closed offered the bears little respite. The zoo's income, however, reached record highs.
During the first year, the pandas were allowed to exercise control over one of the very few choices left to them in lives which are otherwise managed and manipulated in almost every way imaginable. The pandas chose, for one reason or another, and whether consciously or otherwise, not to procreate. The zoo at this point seemed calm, stating good-naturedly in press that "there was always next year".
The following year and there was a distinct sense of panic about the "courtship" (as it was affectionately referred to in press). This time, when the bears failed to copulate through choice, both were knocked unconscious and Tian Tian was forcibly impregnated with semen from both Yuan Guang and a dead panda whose sperm had been frozen in advance.
After months of speculation, the zoo announced that Tian Tian had been pregnant, but had either "aborted" or "absorbed" the foetus. No reason was given for why this might have happened but an aside in an article printed earlier this year suggested it might have been caused by stress; which seems a perfectly reasonable analysis in the circumstances.
Undeterred by both the panda's apparent lack of desire to mate naturally with one another and the fact that Tian Tian had miscarried a baby, the zoo became ever-more determined to hear the pitter patter of panda paws. By this spring, the pressure was really on. The zoo wanted its baby panda and, if that meant attempting to force motherhood on Tian Tian for a second time, then so be it. So after it was deemed that, for the third year running, Tian Tian and Yuang Guang were not going to see to the zoo's problem through choice, it was back onto the operating table with both of them with zoo bosses taking matters into their own hands.
And now, following reams of publicity for the zoo in press over the summer, Edinburgh has, once again, begun the climb-down and admitted that there is no baby panda on the way. But, despite Tian Tian having now endured two forced pregnancies and two rumoured miscarriages, zoo officials have vowed that they are "in it for the long haul" and will "try again next year".
Leading animal protection groups have called upon them to spare Tian Tian further invasive procedures.
Panda expert, Dr. Kati Loeffler, spoke out against the perpetual captive breeding of the species in recent years, saying:
The interest for pandas is stated to be conservation of the species. However, all effort is going into captive breeding. The animals born in captivity in China are raised in a highly human-dominated environment with severe environmental and psycho-behavioural challenges to the development of the animals. These individuals are not normal pandas, nor will they ever be. The argument for captive breeding is to raise a stock population for reintroduction into the wild. Reintroduction is entirely inappropriate for several reasons, the greatest of which is that there are no adequate, demonstrated efforts in China to restore, much less to preserve, the habitats that pandas need for their continued existence on the planet. Before this is established, enforced and proven to develop, there is no room for anyone to be talking about reintroduction