Laid-back pandas ease into new home
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.
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.
One of the pandas munches bamboo in the new enclosure.