THE adorable northern rockhopper penguin chick wasn’t the only new arrival at Edinburgh Zoo in the past week as Scotland’s showpiece zoo was finally able to open its doors to visitors from across the UK.

As Scotland’s Covid restrictions lifted, borders reopened and ­people were allowed to travel beyond their regions then visitor attractions breathed a sigh of relief.

And Edinburgh Zoo’s keepers rolled their sleeves up in anticipation of old friends returning from across the island and spreading out across the 82 acres of wooded hillside to visit the more than 2500 endangered animals.

The zoo has, of course, had to adapt as all attractions have had to due to the Covid regulations.

And there is a booking system with social distancing and other rules in place.

Edinburgh Zoo has been open locally to Edinburgh citizens since February but it is this widening of ­access for the rest of us from last week which is restoring the zoo to somewhere near the “old normal”.

A spokesperson said: “It’s amazing to be able to welcome our wonderful visitors back to Edinburgh Zoo from across the UK.

“We know so many people have missed being able to visit and enjoy our wide-open spaces and amazing animals.

“It costs our charity more than £60,000 every month just to feed and care for the animals at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park and being closed has meant we have had to borrow millions of pounds in loans.”

The newest inhabitant at the zoo has still to be named as they explained: “It will be a while before we name our newest penguin arrival.

“Once the chick is a little older, our RZSS WildGenes team will determine the sex through DNA testing at our lab based at Edinburgh Zoo, the only one of its kind in the UK. From there, we will be able to name them.”

The chick may be the most recent birth but the Edinburgh Zoo family will continue to grow this year.

The spokesperson continued: “It is currently penguin breeding season and so far we have welcomed one northern rockhopper chick.

“Over the next few weeks we are hopeful our gentoo penguin eggs will ­begin hatching too.

“Ahead of the summer holidays, we also hope to welcome giraffes back to Edinburgh Zoo after over 15 years.

“We are currently working on the finishing touches for our new state-of-the-art giraffe house and will have more of an update in the coming weeks.”

As for us humans who form such an important part of the zoo’s wider social circle, the zoo is naturally delighted to have as many of us back as they can and hope to see more in the future.

They said: “We have limited visitor numbers and time slots for entry throughout the day to allow for social distancing as well as a wide range of other safety measures, including one way routes, additional hygiene ­precautions and more hand washing stations throughout the zoo.

“We would normally offer Keeper Experiences and Magic Moments for visitors to get up close and personal with some of our amazing animals and aim to get these up and running again as soon as restrictions allow.”

The superstars of the zoo, of course, are the giant pandas … and the zoo is desperate to keep them beyond this year when our contract with China runs out, particularly if Tian Tian, who was artificially inseminated again this month, falls pregnant.

A natural breeding attempt was made in 2012, with artificial insemination used instead each year between 2013 and 2017 because Yang Guang underwent surgery and is now unable to be a donor.

But for those with sympathy for Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo has explained that male and female pandas can keep their distance in nature.

They said: “Giant panda cubs are raised by their mothers and it could be rare for them to come into contact with their fathers in the wild. Outside of raising cubs, they are naturally solitary animals which is why Tian Tian and Yang Guang live apart at the zoo.”

Tian Tian was believed to be pregnant in August 2017, but her hormone levels and behaviour later returned to normal.

The zoo added: “Yang Guang and Tian Tian have made a tremendous impression on our visitors over the last nine years, helping millions of people connect to nature and inspiring them to take an interest in wildlife conservation.

“We would love for them to be able to stay for a few more years with us and that is certainly the current aim.

“We are discussing next steps with our colleagues in China. At this stage, it is too soon to say what the outcome will be.”

The zoo assures us that the animals have noticed that we haven’t been there over the last year and have a spring in their step from our return.

The spokesperson added: “Many of our animals find people as interesting as we find them. Our chimpanzee troop were even spotted looking out for visitors.

“The penguins haven’t been able to take part in their world-famous daily penguin parade as we rely on visitors to line the parade route and can only start this tradition again when social distancing eases and crowds can gather safely.

“In the meantime, our colony have plenty to get on with during breeding season and soon there’ll be more hungry chicks to feed.”

With a new mouth in the northern rockhopper penguin chick to feed and more animals on the way as well as those who already call Edinburgh Zoo their home, their guardians are just glad to have more humans back from across the UK to see them.

And they are looking forward too to the day when international travel can resume and more of their foreign friends can come again.

The zoo will be there with open arms: “Of course, more visitors would be great for our charity.

“As well as helping to feed and care for our animals, ticket sales also support our work to protect endangered species all over the world.

“We will continue to follow ­Scottish Government guidance on travel restrictions and look forward to welcoming international visitors as soon as safely possible.”