Pandas thriving in Berlin, says zoo director

The two giant pandas sent by China in June, Jiao Qing and Meng Meng, are well-adjusted to their new lives here, according to director of the Zoo Berlin Andreas Knieriem, who said they “eat well and sleep well.”

The male panda Jiao Qing, born in 2010, and the female one Meng Meng, born in 2013, arrived in Berlin in June this year from the panda breeding and research base in Chengdu, southwest China. The panda pair will stay in Berlin Zoo, the oldest in Germany, for 15 years.

Their Chinese keepers stayed in Berlin for just two months — another sign of the two getting accustomed to the new environment well, Knieriem said.

In Berlin, the pandas are expected to see their first ever snow: “Let’s see whether they like it,” said the director.

However, growth always comes with pains. While Jiao Qiao has grown into a calm adult male panda, Meng Meng is still in the middle of puberty and shows behavior similar to human teens in a rebellious phase.

According to Knieriem, Meng Meng is a sensitive panda who has developed a habit of walking backward. She is picky about keepers and bamboos.

“Meng Meng may protest when things do not go her way, for example, through, walking backwards. She has learnt that if she is moving backward, someone will immediately come to her,” Knieriem said.

The director said it would be bad parenting “if your child smashes her food on the plate and you change the food immediately”. Rather the director hopes Meng Meng could realize that walking backwards wouldn’t make any difference.

In the past few weeks, Meng Meng has shown greater acceptance for other keepers. And bamboo she refused to eat in the morning was eventually accepted by her in the afternoon, according to the Zoo.

During a visit by Xinhua, Jiao Qing was sitting next to a wall, chewing bamboos, half facing the audience but clearly not minding the attention at all. Meng Meng, in another enclosure, bottom to the audience, walked backward to the glass wall and then forward to another direction.

Even in this demonstration of, perhaps, mischief, Meng Meng did not fail to provoke adoration from the audience. A teenage girl said: “This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Knieriem said with the advent of the panda pair, the zoo registers a daily average of more than 10,000 visits, despite a rainier-than-usual summer this year. “Every day is like Sunday now, because there are many panda friends who come,” the director said.

“The pandas are the pride of this zoo, and they make the zoo complete again,” Knieriem said. The last panda in Berlin Zoo died five years ago.

As Meng Meng is approaching sexual maturity, she will be introduced to Jiao Qing next year. If they like each other, they are expected to mate in July or August next year.

“There is no must, but we’ll make sure everything is prepared,” said Knieriem, adding their friends in Chengdu will help them in preparation.

Meng Meng is now also getting prepared for this next big thing as she undertakes medical training everyday so that she can show her tummy to trainers without having to be sedated, a preparation for her ultrasound pregnancy check-ups.