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Panda celebrities.

Meng Meng and Jiao Qing were greeted like guests of state when they arrived in Berlin-Schönefeld in July. Lufthansa Cargo spared no effort in ensuring the safe transport and welfare of these rare bears.

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Jiao Qing.

The male panda, Jiao Qing (pronounced: Jiao Tsching), which translates as “little darling,” was born in Chengdu on July 15, 2010 and weighs in at an impressive 108 kilograms. He is not only rather inquisitive and mischievous but also relatively active, which is unusual for a panda. As one would expect from a true panda bear, he can be quite querulous and remonstrative if he has to wait too long for his bamboo shoots.

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Meng Meng.

A round face and a short snout? That can only be the female panda Meng Meng (“little dream”)! The animal keepers at Berlin’s Zoo have been hard at work practising the correct pronunciation: “Möng Möng.” This mild-mannered and docile bear was born in Chengdu on July 10, 2013 and weighs around 77 kilograms.

Protecting pandas is our highest priority.

Protecting pandas is our highest priority.

Dark button eyes, round faces and furry ears – it is almost impossible to resist the charms of these black-and-white creatures. But the future of these rare bears is threatened and they are still considered a vulnerable species: 1,864 giant pandas live in the wild and only 54 in zoos outside China. Accordingly, there was frenzied interest from onlookers as two of these treasured animals landed at Berlin-Schönefeld on June 24, touching down at 2.53 pm on flight LH 8415. The Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F was specially rerouted from Chengdu as the regular flight schedule from there is only expected to recommence in January 2018. Meng Meng and Jiao Qing were greeted like guests of state. The airport’s fire service saluted the freighter with a plume of water and the cockpit crew waved a German and a Chinese flag in front of some 30 journalists assembled on the apron. The two giant pandas seemed unimpressed by all the hoopla. They gazed around with interest, obviously having enjoyed their twelvehour flight. Hardly surprising, considering the couple received first-class treatment on board – including round-the-clock supervision from Dr. Andreas Ochs, chief veterinarian at the Berlin Zoo, and two handlers from China. There were also enough in-flight snacks to keep them happy: the MD-11F had loaded one tonne of bamboo. 

Upon arrival, the pandas were greeted by numerous prominent figures, among them China’s Ambassador to Berlin, Shi Mingde, Berlin’s Mayor, Michael Müller, and Berlin Zoo director Andreas Knieriem. The welcoming committee also included Alexis von Hoensbroech, Board Member Product and Sales at Lufthansa Cargo. 

Mayor Müller said: “I take great personal pride in welcoming our two new Berliners. We’re very pleased to see Berlin being graced by another great attraction.” Shi Mingde explained the phenomenon behind pandas, saying: “In China, pandas are regarded as a national treasure. China without pandas is simply inconceivable, which is why the preservation and protection of these animals is our highest priority.”

Meng Meng and Jiao Qing were later driven to their new home, an enclosure in Berlin’s Zoo that cost ten million euros and was approved by a Chinese delegation. The two bears, the only pandas in Germany, are on loan for 15 years. Berlin Zoo will pay 920,000 euros a year to host them, with 90 percent of the money being invested in panda protection and breeding research. Given the cost, the zoo hopes that the exotic couple will ultimately produce a cub.

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The man in charge of this precious freight on behalf of Lufthansa Cargo was Wolfgang Handke from the Sales Team Berlin, who joined the airline in 1982 and accompanied a panda-flight in the 1990s. The responsible parties on the Chinese side were Yuan Fang, Head of Handling Northern Asia, and Hasso Schmidt, Head of Sales & Handling Eastern China, who has also been with Lufthansa since 1982. “The whole operation was a great team effort by both countries. The same goes for the coordination outside of our hubs,” said Handke. Everything had to be run by him: from visas for the accompanying handlers to communications with customs and plant protection for the bamboo on board right up to coordinating the freighter’s parking position with Schönefeld airport. “It’s better when one person is involved in everything, it makes things a whole lot simpler,” the sales manager explained. When the pandas leave Berlin in 15 years, he will likely not be involved. “Organizing a second transport for giant pandas is a lovely end to a career. I’ll probably be retired by the time the next pandas arrive.”

Shi Mingde, the Chinese Ambassador to Berlin, called the two panda bears “national treasures.” Accordingly, the official unveiling of the new panda enclosure attracted highranking guests: seen here are Chancellor Angela Merkel and China’s President, Xi Jinping.

 

Photos:
Lufthansa Cargo, Zoo Berlin, Frederic Schweizer
Planet 2/2017