Craving independence, sleeping in till noon, eating whenever they feel like it: it seems adolescent giant pandas aren’t that different from adolescent humans. Today, Berlin’s panda twins Pit and Paule celebrate their third birthday – which actually makes them teenagers in panda years. The birthday boys woke up to a tasty and refreshing surprise to mark the special day: a pile of snow to play in and a tasty “3” made of frozen beetroot juice, surrounded by the finest bamboo shoots. “Giant pandas are quite particular about their food, so it takes a fair amount of creativity to come up with an appropriate birthday feast,” explains Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem. “The giant panda’s diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo – a species of grass that is very low in calories. This is highly unusual fare for omnivores like bears, so their digestive tract has adapted accordingly.” In order to keep a firm grip on their favourite food, pandas have even evolved an enlarged carpal bone that functions as a kind of extra thumb.
“A birthday treat shouldn’t only taste good, it should also involve some fun and games,” says keeper Corvin Schmohl, who came up with the birthday surprise with the rest of Zoo Berlin’s panda team. “Providing the animals with a variety of stimuli and activities is an important part of being a good zookeeper.” Despite being typical teens in many ways, twin brothers Pit and Paule still get along well. Pit remains the more enthusiastic of the two, which is particularly noticeable during the twins’ medical training sessions. Paule, meanwhile, has grown out of his moody childhood phase and is now more relaxed and mature. He was the first of the two to inspect the birthday feast, but it didn’t take long for brother Pit to join the party.
Zoo Berlin has been home to Germany’s only giant pandas since summer 2017. On 31 August 2019, female panda Meng Meng (9) gave birth to two cubs: Pit, who weighed 186 grams, and Paule, 136 grams. They were the first giant pandas ever born in Germany. Father Jiao Qing (12) is not involved in the rearing of his offspring – as is normal for giant pandas. Pit and Paule have been living separately from their mother since last year. The bears now take it in turns to use the various indoor and outdoor areas at Zoo Berlin’s Panda Garden. Giant panda mothers and their young generally part ways when the cubs are two to four years old. Male pandas reach sexual maturity at around five to six years of age. It is not yet clear when exactly Berlin’s panda brothers will move to China to start the next phase of their life. Discussions are currently underway regarding the logistics for the move. Giant pandas are classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: the most recent estimates suggest that there are only approximately 1,864 adult giant pandas living in their natural habitat.