June 24, 2017
BERLIN (AP) — Two giant pandas — Meng Meng and Jiao Qing — received a celebrity welcome Saturday in Berlin from the German capital’s mayor and the Chinese ambassador after they safely weathered a long flight from China.
Meng Meng and Jiao Qing flew the animal equivalent of first class, getting royal treatment on their 12-hour-flight from Chengdu in southwestern China. Their entourage included a Berlin veterinarian, two Chinese zookeepers and a bunch of journalists.
“They slept a bit, munched on their bamboo and nibbled on some cookies,” veterinarian Andreas Ochs told reporters at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport shortly after the arrival. Medication for motion sickness was not needed.
“They did just fine,” he said. The German capital is going nuts over the impossibly cute bears, who will be presented to the public at Berlin Zoo on July 6. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping are also expected to visit the new animal stars ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Germany in early July.
“It was my personal wish to come and welcome our new residents,” Mayor Michael Mueller said. “We are delighted that Berlin has gained another fantastic attraction with these bears.” Jiao Qing, which means “darling,” is a 7-year-old male and weighs 108 kilograms (238 pounds). Female Meng Meng, which translates as “sweet dream,” is three years old and weighs 77 kilograms (169 pounds).
The pandas were taken from the airport to the zoo with police protection so they didn’t have to stop at any red lights. They also brought their own food on the plane — one metric ton of bamboo from China. Once they’ve chewed up all of that, the zoo will start importing special bamboo from the Netherlands.
The furry couple will move into a ritzy new nine-million-euro ($10 million) compound, furbished with Chinese-style pavilions, red lanterns, a climbing area and a mountain landscape. They will be the only pandas in the country, the German news agency dpa reported.
Expectations are high the two will have babies soon, even though Ochs warned that Meng Meng is not yet sexually mature. The arrival of the black-and-white bears was preceded by yearslong bilateral negotiations, since giant pandas are unique to China and sent abroad as diplomatic envoys.
“In China, pandas are regarded as a national treasure,” Chinese ambassador Shi Mingde said. “Therefore the breeding and conservation of these animals is a top priority for us.” The pandas will be on loan from China for 15 years — a deal for which the Asian country is charging 1 million euros ($1.1 million) each year, dpa reported.
Berlin’s last panda, Bao Bao, was sent in 1980 as a gift from then-Chinese leader Hua Guofeng to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Bao Bao died in 2012. Berlin’s most famous zoo animal, the polar bear Knut, died of a sudden illness in 2011.