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Berlin's zoo welcomes two stars of tomorrow

By Cecily Liu in Berlin | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-07-08 00:09

Berlin's zoo welcomes two stars of tomorrow

Meng Meng stands in her crate during a meet-the-press event after she and Jiao Qing arrived in Berlin on June 24. The panas' enclosure will be opened by President Xi Jinping on Wednesday. [Photo/Xinhua]

Meng Meng and Jiao Qing have arrived in Germany, home for next 15 years

A pair of giant pandas are set to become the new stars of Berlin's zoo, director Andreas Knieriem said on Tuesday, one day before President Xi Jinping and Chancellor Angela Merkel were to jointly open the zoo's Panda Garden.

China sent the pandas, Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, to Germany ahead of the G20 Global Leaders Summit in Hamburg. Meng Meng, which means "sweet dream" in Chinese, is a 4-year-old female panda, while Jiao Qing, meaning "darling", is a 7-year-old male.

"The pandas are already very comfortable in their surroundings. As soon as they got here from the airport, they ate and drank, just like they do at home," Knieriem said.

To welcome the pandas, the zoo spent eight months constructing a 5,000 square meter garden, which has a pagoda, separate indoor and outdoor panda display areas, wooden bridges and special medical support areas. The garden is decorated with newly planted bamboo and red lanterns, all of which are familiar to the pandas in China.

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 also pay about $1 million a year (920,000 euros) for the 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 research work on panda conservation, 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 the Free University Berlin.

Berlin's zoo, which welcomes 3.3 million visitors a year, already hosts around 1,400 species. The public can view the pandas from Thursday.

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

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

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

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