Berlin's heirless panda goes into retirement

14th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 November 2005, BERLIN - Panda "Bao Bao" has been a resident of Berlin's zoo, the Zoologischer Garten, for 25 years.

14 November 2005

BERLIN - Panda "Bao Bao" has been a resident of Berlin's zoo, the Zoologischer Garten, for 25 years.

"According to our information he is the oldest male panda living in captivity," says the zoo's director Juergen Lange.

He arrived in Berlin as a two-year-old in November 1980 accompanied by a female, Tjen Tjen, as a gift from the Chinese government to then-West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Tjen Tjen did not survive long in captivity and she died in 1984 as a result of a viral infection.

She was succeeded by Yan Yan. Then followed 10 years of close scrutiny by the media and animal lovers of attempts to get the pair to mate either naturally or by artificial insemination.

But despite all efforts, Bao Bao never got Yan Yan pregnant. "It is not his fault. His semen is absolutely perfect," says the zoo's director.

Last year, the Chinese dispatched a team of experts from their panda national park to Germany to see if a special mix of semen could help Tjen Tjen conceive.

But this also failed and the zoo's authorities have decided in the long term to place their hopes on another generation of younger pandas.

"We want to keep our colony of pandas," says Lange. "But that is not just a very expensive undertaking. It's also a complicated diplomatic procedure as well."

Karin Schubert, Berlin's social democratic Justice Senator, has been a firm supporter of Berlin's pandas in the past and says she will continue to support them in the future. "But paying for them could pose enormous problems."

The Chinese authorities say they expect to earn one million euros annually for every bear they allow out of the country.

Estimates suggest there are just 1,400 pandas living in the wild in China's mountain forests.

With the pressure to produce a panda cub off, Bao Bao and Yan Yan can now look forward to a quiet and undisturbed retirement consuming between 10 and 12 kilos of bamboo a day surrounded by their admiring public.

In addition, the pandas also receive soya and rice dumplings packed with vitamins. Bao Bao is also given medicine to help maintain good blood circulation.

Veterinary Andreas Ochs says Bao Bao enjoys good health.

"He is very fit for his age."

One of the most memorable incidences during his career happened when Bao Bao was lent to London zoo in the hope he would mate with their resident panda Ming Ming.

But expectations the two would procreate were dashed as the couple fought and bit each other so badly zookeepers used fire extinguishers to separate them.

At the time Lutz Stoermer, the Berlin zookeeper who picked Bao Bao up in Beijing in 1980 and who has now spent a quarter century with the panda, was amazed at Bao Bao's behaviour.

He described Bao Bao, who always greeted his keepers with a barking noise, as "a reliable friend who has no deceitful intentions".



Subject: German news

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