Time to say goodbye

Time flies when you’re having fun. It is almost two months since our pandas Meng Meng and Jiao Qing moved into their spacious new home at Zoo Berlin. Accompanying them on their trip and during their first few weeks in Berlin were Chinese panda keepers Zheng Hao (27) and Yin Hong (28). The two keepers had already been caring for the bears back home in China and came to Berlin to help them settle in here.

But then the time came for the young keepers to bid farewell to their panda pals. We took the opportunity to have a chat with them before they flew back to Chengdu.

You have had around seven weeks to get really familiar with the Panda Garden. How happy are you with Jiao Qing and Meng Meng’s new home in Berlin?

Yin Hong: “We are very happy! The facility is great and very varied – with its rocks, climbing trees, stream, caves, etc. We particularly like the natural transition from the indoor to outdoor areas, and that those areas are clearly visible to the visitors.”

So you believe that the two pandas have settled in well?

Zheng Hao: “Definitely. You must remember that pandas need time to get used to new surroundings and new keepers. It is very clear that our two pandas have very different characters. Meng Meng is our little princess; she is much more sensitive and headstrong than Jiao Qing. He is braver, calmer and more relaxed. The two German keepers have invested so much passion and energy into getting to know the bears and their particular traits and peculiarities. The pandas are certainly in very good hands here.”

Are you particularly fond of any other animals?

Yin Hong: “In general, of course, we like all animals. I am a dog lover and used to own a dog myself. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to keep pets because of the risk of passing on diseases to the zoo animals. Here at Zoo Berlin I am particularly fond of the Père David’s deer and the Manchurian cranes.”

Zhao Hao: “I love the Arctic wolves and the sloths!”

How did the two of you come to be chosen to accompany the pandas to Berlin?

Zhao Hao: “There were three criteria when selecting which keepers would take the pandas to their new home. 1. Expert knowledge of pandas; 2. Work ethic; 3. Relationship to the Berlin-bound pandas. The two of us fulfilled all three criteria. I have known Meng Meng since her birth, and my colleague has known her since 2015.”

Were you happy with Berlin as a destination?

Zhao Hao: “Oh yes! Because of our profession, we’re used to going on long business trips. Usually, those are within China, so we were particularly excited to travel to Germany this time.”

Did you get a chance to explore Berlin a little, and what do you like best here?

Yin Hong: “Of course we went to visit some of the sights of Berlin on our days off. We were particularly impressed by the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, and Potsdamer Platz. As we have been staying in employee flats in the operations complex, we often went for a stroll after work and got to know the area around the Zoo very well. We love how peaceful and idyllic the city is – not too many people live here, and there are very few tall buildings. We also really enjoy the atmosphere in the beer gardens.”

Since you mentioned beer gardens – how do you like the food here in Germany?

Yin Hong: “Pretty well. We particularly like anything with pork, which we also eat a lot of in China. We also really like the Berlin speciality of curried sausage. But we’re not too impressed with the range of vegetables on offer here in Germany – in China the selection is much bigger.”

Thank you for talking to us!

In appreciation for all their hard work assisting with the transportation of the pandas and helping them get settled, head panda keeper Christian Toll and Zoological Director Ragnar Kühne presented the two Chinese keepers with a photo album capturing memories of their time in Berlin and several Zoo souvenirs for them to take back home to their families. Their time in Berlin finished with a bang – a visit to exciting night-time museum event the Long Night of Museums.

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