The UK's only giant pandas all set to leave Edinburgh Zoo and head back to China

Edinburgh Zoo’s star attractions Yang Guang and Tian Tian - also known as Sunshine and Sweetie - are due to start their flight home this week.

They have been sleeping in their travelling crates so that when the time comes to fly, it will be just like travelling ‘in their beds’.

Panda fans are visiting in their droves to say farewell before the enclosure is closed to the public, with final viewing on Thursday.

David Field, Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), revealed the plans are well underway.

He confirmed that, although the final details are still to be confirmed by the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA), the animals will fly direct from Edinburgh to Chengdu.

Mr Field said: ‘They’ll be going out in the next week. We’ve just got to finalise all the last health tests and get the final licenses through.

‘The flights are all being organised by our Chinese colleagues, the CWCA. There are a couple of slots.’

Yang Guang and Tian Tian became the first giant pandas in the UK for 17 years when they arrived in Edinburgh in December 2011.

Their return after almost exactly 12 years has been carefully managed, from monitoring of the animals’ health and fitness to travel to the specifications of their crates and efforts to familiarise the pandas with them.

The pandas will sleep in their individual crates the night before their departure and, in the morning, be loaded into a haulage van for transportation just a few miles to Edinburgh Airport, where they will board a chartered aeroplane.

They will be accompanied on board by familiar faces including senior animal keeper Michael Livingstone and veterinary surgeon Dr Stephanie Mota.

Mr Field said: ‘The pandas have been introduced to their crates so they have their smells, their bedding and they feel comfortable in them. They are already sleeping in them.

‘In colloquial terms they’re travelling in their beds. They’ll just bed down and sleep through most of it.’