Laid-back pan­das ease into new home

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By CE­CILY LIU in Ber­lin ce­cily.liu@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

A pair of gi­ant pan­das are about to be­come stars at the Ber­lin Zoo, as Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel opened the zoo’s Panda Gar­den on Wed­nes­day.

The two pan­das — 4-year-old fe­male Meng Meng and 7-year-old male Jiao Qing — ar­rived in the Ger­man cap­i­tal last month.

The name Meng Meng, means “sweet dream” in Chi­nese; Jiao Qing means “dar­ling”.

“The pan­das are al­ready very com­fort­able in their sur­round­ings,” said An­dreas Knieriem, di­rec­tor of the Ber­lin Zoo, not­ing the an­i­mals’ laid-back life­style. “As soon as they got here from the air­port, they ate and drank just as they did at home.”

To wel­come the pan­das, the zoo spent eight months cre­at­ing a gar­den for them — 5,000 square me­ters that in­cludes a pagoda, sep­a­rate in­door and out­door panda dis­play ar­eas, wooden bridges and special med­i­cal sup­port ar­eas. It’s dec­o­rated with newly planted bam­boo and red lan­terns.

China has pre­vi­ously given three pan­das to Ger­many. When 34-year-old Bao Bao died in 2012, he was the old­est male panda in the world.

The zoo will pay about $1 mil­lion a year un­der a 15-year con­tract to host the pair, with most of the funds go­ing to­ward a breed­ing re­search pro­gram in China and the pro­tec­tion of pan­das in their nat­u­ral habi­tat.

While the pan­das are in Ber­lin, the zoo will con­duct con­ser­va­tion re­search in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing, the Ber­lin-based Leib­niz In­sti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Re­search and the ve­teri­nary fac­ulty at Free Uni­ver­sity Ber­lin.

The Ber­lin Zoo wel­comes 3.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year and houses around 1,400 species. The public can view the pan­das start­ing on Thurs­day.

“We look for­ward to see­ing the pan­das,” said Ker­stin Eis­test, a Frank­furt res­i­dent who was vis­it­ing the zoo with her 8-year-old daugh­ter Frida. “We like them for their color and their soft and cud­dly na­ture.”

Pan­das have been on the en­dan­gered list of the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture since 1990, but ex­ten­sive con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in re­cent decades have led to an in­crease in their num­bers. Last year, it changed the panda’s sta­tus to “vul­ner­a­ble”. Ac­cord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund, about 1,864 pan­das live in the wild to­day.

Knieriem, the zoo di­rec­tor, said he hopes vis­i­tors see­ing pan­das in Ber­lin will be prompted to think about do­ing more for en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion.

JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel ar­rive for an of­fi­cial wel­com­ing cer­e­mony for a pair of pan­das, one male and one fe­male, at the Ber­lin Zoo on Wed­nes­day.

AXEL SCH­MIDT / REUTERS

One of the pan­das munches bam­boo in the new en­clo­sure.

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