Berlin zoo to keep politics out of panda names after public picks Hong and Kong

Alice Yan

Berlin zoo has said it wants to keep politics out of the naming of its two newborn panda cubs after readers of a German newspaper voted for them to be called Hong and Kong, Global Times reported on Monday.

The zoo, which said it would work with Chinese experts to name the cubs once their gender became clear, told the tabloid: “We want to fundamentally distance ourselves from these reports on the naming of the panda twins.”

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in southwestern Sichuan province has the rights to, and the last word on, naming pandas born overseas, according to the report.

A poll by the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel for name suggestions for the twins born at the zoo on August 31 to six-year-old Meng Meng led to Hong and Kong topping the list in recognition of weeks of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Away from the controversy surrounding the naming of her offspring, Meng Meng gets on with the task of nursing her cubs. Photo: EPA

Other choices included Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting, after the two Hong Kong political campaigners arrested on August 30 on suspicion of unlawful assembly during the protests.

Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, the cubs’ nine-year-old father, arrived at Berlin zoo in June 2017, the Shanghai-based newspaper Wenhui Bao reported. The pandas are on a 15-year lease in Germany, with the zoo paying €920,000 (US$1,015,726) to China for them each year.

The zoo said it had not thought about naming the cubs as their gender had not yet been established, Global Times reported. “Only after their gender is confirmed will we discuss the panda’s names with experts from the Chengdu base,” a spokesman was quoted as saying.

Calls to name Berlin zoo’s panda cubs ‘Hong and Kong’ spark German national debate on China

Diao Kunpeng, a panda conservationist with Beijing-based NGO Shan Shui Conservation Centre, told the tabloid the base had the last word on naming the clubs and that, “politicising panda names is highly inappropriate, and I believe Chengdu will not agree [to the German newspaper suggestions].”

The German poll led to a backlash on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“You are so bad. We don’t want you to name our pandas,” one user wrote.

“You are apparently stirring up trouble. If you continue like this, we will not lend pandas to you,” another said.

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