The sight of children’s eyes lighting up, photographers jostling for the best view, the noise of camera shutters clicking – all for the arrival of Yan Yan the female panda at Berlin Zoo 20 years ago. People queued up at the zoo gates to welcome the new arrival from China. Yan Yan became the new shooting star – raising hopes that finally, there would be panda cubs in Berlin. These hopes, however, were never fulfilled, and when Yan Yan died on March 26th 2007, Berlin and the entire German nation went into mourning.
After her death, Yan Yan was sent to the cold store of the Museum für Naturkunde, where she was kept for the last seven years. Then, before being sent home to China, she was prepared by taxidermists in the Museum and will be on display for six months, together with Bao Bao, the male who shared her zoo enclosure.
Anybody who has seen an alive panda in a zoo knows how attractive they are. They just have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, which makes them utterly irresistible. They may be few and far between outside China, but they have acquired a strange omnipresence – in advertising for a Chinese takeaway, printed on food packages in the supermarket, on T-shirts, mobile phone covers or even tattooed on somebody’s skin. But what do we really know about this black-and-white bear that seems to be constantly munching away on bamboo and becoming ever more popular in the process?
This is the question we are trying to answer in our exhibition, set up in cooperation with the WWF, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Zoo Berlin.