Baby Pandas in the Berlin Zoo
The Zoological Garden in Berlin is the only German zoo where you can see the endangered Giant Panda! The first Pandas arrived here even before I was born, in 1980: The female Tjen Tjen and her male counterpart Bao Bao.
But the Berlin Panda story was no success! Tjen Tjen died only four years after her arrival and Bao Bao stayed single until 1995, when Yan Yan arrived in Berlin. Despite multiple attempts the couple was not blessed with offspring and Yan Yan eventually passed away in 2007.
Bao Bao survived her another 5 years, being the oldest male Panda in the world!
As a child growing up in Berlin I of course visited the zoo regularly. But the only memory I have of the Giant Pandas are the stories of failed attempts to get offsprings and the silhouette of a sleeping Bao Bao in his enclosure.
For multiple years Berlin and Germany were without Giant Pandas.
Everyone was thrilled when in late 2016 it was announced that the Chinese government had agreed to send another young couple to Berlin: Jiao Qing and Meng Meng.
One of the conditions was that they would get a completely new enclosure built in the heart of the zoo. Berlin did not disappoint!
In just half a year (unusually quick for Berlin) a complete new enclosure of over 5400 m² was built from scratch: A central complex and two separate (Pandas live alone and only meet for the mating) large-scale outdoor areas in a traditional Chinese style.
Finally, on the 24th of June 2017, Jiao Qing and Meng Meng landed on the Schönefeld airport just outside of Berlin!
After being given almost two weeks to get comfy, they were presented for the first time to the public on the 5th of August.
But before the visitors were allowed to finally see them, we first had to get the political theater behind us. There is a reason why lending out Giant Pandas all around the world by the Chinese government is called 'Panda Diplomacy'!
Noone less but Chinese President Xi Jinping had come to Berlin, standing side by side with Chancellor Angela Merkel, presenting a picture of harmony and intercultural cooperation.
Of course the timing was no coincidence! At a time when the new US-President was constantly giving the finger to Germany, China played its Panda card, sending a message of friendship and goodwill. Both Angela Merkel as well as Xi Jinping were happy to continue to present this picture of cooperation when travelling together to the G20 summit in Hamburg, that took place over the next couple of days, facing the US-President together – with little success.
While the US-German relation crumbled apart more and more over the following years, at least the Pandas in Berlin flourished! Jiao Qing and Meng Meng took the hearts of all Berliners in no time! The great enclosure, letting the visitors take a close look at the Pandas through the glass walls while still giving the Pandas ample space to retreat for a nap whenever they choose, played an essential role in making this possible.
But one questions remained on everyone's mind: What about Panda babies?
Well, we had to be a bit patient! Both Pandas were quite young when they came to Berlin, Meng Meng was only 4 years old. Giant Pandas mature sexually at the age of 5! Additionally the female is only ready to mate for a short period of time sometime between March and May, in which she has to conceive in a 72 – hour time period. I guess there's a reason why they are endangered in the wild besides the human destruction of their natural habitat...
The first chance came in April 2019.
Remembering the many failures of the past we tried to not have our hopes up too much, but what can I say? It turned out to be an immediate success!
Throughout the summer there were already many signs suggesting that Meng Meng was indeed pregnant. But as with so many things concerning Pandas, the pregnancy is tricky! A female Panda can appear pregnant, show changed hormons and a different behaviour pattern and it can still all be just false alarm.
Finally, in late August, the zoo confirmed a succesful pregnancy.
Only one week later, the young mother gave birth to a set of Giant Panda twins!
At this point they were not giants yet, boy number 1 weighed 186 grams, boy number 2 only 136 grams. It is not uncommon for Pandas to have 2 or 3 babies, but under natural circumstances usually only one survives. But the zoo staff, supported by the experts from the breeding center in China, made sure that both babies developed nicely over the next couple of months!
In early December their names were revealed: Meng Xian and Meng Yuan.
The keepers in the Zoo though call them by their German nicknames: Pit & Paule!
During that time the social media feeds of the Berlin Zoo constantly delivered baby panda content, making fans all over the country impatient to finally see them in the flesh.
After month of waiting, our wishes came true: Since the 30th of January both baby pandas and their mother can be seen in their enclosure by the people.
As expected the zoo is currently overrun by huge amounts of visitors, standing patiently in line to see them live. Most of the day the mother as well as both little boys will be out. From time to time the mother and one of the kids are being taken to the back for medical exams or to feed them, but there will always be at least one of the little ones out to be seen.
The father is btw. not involved in bringing them up. While Meng Meng is busy with her kids, Jiao Qing was sleeping lazily in his part of the enclosure during my visit two days ago.
The kids will stay in Berlin for at least two more years before they will go back to their homeland. All Giant Pandas in the world are official property of China and are technically only on loan to other countries to help with the breeding program!
So if you should come to Berlin in the course of the next year, treat yourself and your family to a wonderful experience and watch the cute baby pandas play in their enclosure.
Be sure to bring a bit of patience for the waiting line, especially on the weekend!
Tickets for the zoo itself can be bought online or at the ticketselling machines of the public transport network to avoid the queues at the cash registers. More infos about prices can be found here.
If you don't want to wait until then to see the adorable little guys, check out the Panda Blog of the Berlin Zoo. There are even more articles and pictures available if you switch it to German!
All the best from Berlin!