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  Edinburgh zoo's pandas help boost visitor numbers by 51%
Edinburgh's romantically doomed giant pandas may have failed to mate but they have brought good fortune to the city's zoo, boosting its income and visitor numbers to record levels.

The zoo's charitable owners, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said its overall income jumped by more than £5m to nearly £15m last year, and the number of visitors leapt by 51% following the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang in late December 2011.

The society has taken another step to protect the pandas' value to the zoo by trademarking their popular, anglicised names, Sunshine and Sweetie, to prevent pirate merchandising.

Other retailers and businesses are now banned from selling products called Sunshine or Sweetie under the sweeping, catch-all trademark, which covers scores of commercial activities including cuddly toys, toilet paper, table mats, travel agencies, badges, even veterinarians and animal sperm banks.

The zoo's patentlawyers were concerned that should Tian Tian's artificial insemination be a success, clinics that market AI for animals might try to cash in.

The pandas' Chinese names were trademarked before they flew to Edinburgh in December 2011, a year when the society reported a £1.2m deficit after taking out two bank loans to help it cover earlier losses. This year, its overall surplus is £2.4m.

Zoo officials are waiting to see if the pair will produce Edinburgh's first panda cub, after Tian Tian was artificially inseminated with sperm from Yang Guang and a dead donor panda called Bao Bao last month.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang failed to mate as hoped during their extremely short breeding season, and the zoo fears her advancing age makes it less likely she will conceive naturally as each year passes.

A panda cub or two could boost visitor numbers by another 50%, comfortably taking it above the 1 million mark, said Chris West, the society's chief executive.

West said the society's profits were partly due to growing visitor numbers at its Highland Wildlife park in the Cairngorms, and a general rise in zoo visits regardless of the pandas.

But the "glamorous" pandas had been extremely valuable: the extra ticket and merchandising sales had more than covered the heavy costs of keeping the pandas, which include a $1m-a-year payment (£650,000) to the Chinese, their bespoke bamboo feed and staffing costs.

"If we were a charity running a music festival, the pandas are the main [headline] act that people will get excited about," West said. "But what the main act does is it brings a lot more people to enjoy and connect with what it's all about, and provide the revenue to enable us to meet our conservation mission."
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