The Panda babies

The Panda babies

The panda diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China has a long tradition. Empress Wu Zetian gave the cuddly little bears as gifts during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century to improve relations with neighbouring countries and selected rulers. After the Communist victory over the Kuomintang, Mao resumed this practice in the 1950s, initially giving gifts to friendly Communist heads of state. The West received its first panda in the 1970s, as a gift from Mao to US President Nixon on his first visit to China. In 1980, Berlin Zoo finally received its first pair of pandas as a gift from the Chinese head of state and government Hua Guofeng to the then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

At the same time, the panda was added to the infamous “Red List” of endangered species. In order to lead the country out of poverty, China’s leadership under Deng Xiaoping focussed on unbridled economic growth. This policy brought a rapid upswing for the people – but it was a disaster for the pandas. Human settlements made ever deeper breaches in the pandas’ sensitive habitat and made life increasingly difficult for them. During the “second great panda census” of 1985 – 1988, the scale of the problem suddenly became clear: there were only 1200 animals left in a very fragmented area. Without help, the panda would not live to see the turn of the millennium.

The international outcry finally startled the Chinese leadership. The remaining habitat of the pandas was finally protected by reserves and national parks and a systematic breeding programme was set up, in which zoos from all over the world also took part. The practice of donations was converted into permanent loans and the offspring were to be returned to China to be reintroduced into the wild. Unter dieser Prämisse zogen 2017 die beiden Pandas Meng Meng und Jiao Qing mit großem Bahnhof und viel Polit-Prominenz in den Berliner Zoo und sind seitdem einer der großen Publikumsmagneten. Under this premise, the two pandas Meng Meng and Jiao Qing moved into Berlin Zoo in 2017 with a big crowd and lots of political celebrities and have been one of the big crowd-pullers ever since.

After my image film for the zoo’s big anniversary was finished in the summer, I received a call from Head of Marketing Christiane Reiss at the end of September. She didn’t want to reveal much on the phone, just one thing – an event was about to happen. A very big event. After I had sworn myself to absolute silence, we stood in a separate area of the zoo that afternoon. In front of us sat panda lady Meng Meng – heavily pregnant. With twins. There was no sign of the panda’s excitement; she was gnawing on her bamboo with relish. But the excitement at the zoo was great. A twin birth of pandas was a world sensation. The press would be clamouring for the best seats.

To spare the panda lady the stress of a pack of nervous journalists, the zoo wanted to take the film and photo production into its own hands and serve the press centrally. I was asked to support Christiane and her team with advice and assistance. In the end, I was the only external photographer allowed to photograph the little pandas and shoot footage for the social media channels in a total of 6 sessions, until the workflow was finally so well-rehearsed that the zoo’s social media team took over the production itself.

These are the photos of the first weeks of the two panda babies Meng Xiang and Meng Yuan.