Tanja, Berlin’s oldest elephant, dies

Berlin’s oldest elephant, the 54-year-old Tanja, passed away on Tuesday, the Berlin Zoo announced Wednesday.

Tanja, Berlin's oldest elephant, dies
Tanja and a friend in the zoo. Photo: DPA

The Asian elephant, estimated to be born in 1964, had increasingly struggled with age-related complaints typical of elephants, according to the zoo. Laying down was particularly difficult for her, so she had been sleeping standing up for about two years.

“Due to her progressive osteoarthritis, Tanja was so ill in the last few days that she couldn't make it outside and had to stay in the stable,” said Andreas Ochs, curator and head veterinarian at Berlin Zoo.

In addition, the elephant cow (the name given to female elephants) had lost a lot of weight due to her age and was increasingly struggling with vision problems and general weakness.

Tanja's condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she could hardly stand without leaning against something. Already in her last days at the zoo, Tanja had isolated herself from the rest of the herd, according to the zoo's statement.

Tanja in front of zoo visitors in August 2018. Photo: DPA

Avoiding further suffering

In order to avoid further suffering of the gentle giant, the zoo decided after coordination with veterinary colleagues of Free University's Institute for Animal Protection of the Free University of Berlin to put Tanja to sleep. 

“In order to have responsible animal husbandry it’s also important to spare the animals further unnecessary suffering, however heavily such decisions always fall, said zoo director Andreas Knieriem.

Tanja came to Berlin Zoo from the Munich-based Krone Circus at the age of 10 in 1974. According to the zoo, she quickly integrated into the herd and was the zoo's main attraction.

The largest living land animal in south and southeast Asia, Asian elephants are currently classified as endangered. Studies have shown them to be highly intelligent and self-aware, able to display traits such as grief, compassion, and cooperation with others. They typically live up to 60 years in the wild.

At around 54, Tanya reached an age no other elephant in the German capital has achieved yet. However, since Tanja was taken from the wild, her exact age can’t be determined.

After Tanja's death, six Asian elephants still live in the Berlin Zoo in the leafy Tiergarten park – Drumbo (48), Carla (45), Lyoti (approx. 44), Pang Pha (31), Anchali (6) and Bulle Victor (24).


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Boy oh boy! Two male pandas make public debut at Berlin Zoo

The cuteness level at Berlin Zoo doubled on Monday when a pair of twin panda cubs made their public debut, with the zoo revealing the cuddly bundles of fur were both boys.

Boy oh boy! Two male pandas make public debut at Berlin Zoo
The panda twins Meng Yuan (l) und Meng Xiang (r) being held by zookeepers at Berlin Zoo. Photo: DPA

The little ones were born at the zoo on August 31st but in keeping with Chinese tradition they were only named after 100 days.

Speaking before a crowd of excited reporters at the Panda Garden, zoo director Andreas Knieriem announced that the cubs would go by the names of Meng Xiang, meaning “long-awaited dream” and Meng Yuan, or “dream come true”.

The twins, weighing around six kilos each, then made their long-awaited first appearance before the world's media.

READ ALSO: Berlin panda Meng Meng gives birth to twins

Wheeled out in a glass-cased “panda bed”, they were seen lounging close together on a heated mattress.

One of the cubs appeared half-asleep and unfazed by the attention, while his more active brother repeatedly turned his back on the press pack, prompting coos and laughter.

But the general public will have to wait a little longer for their own glimpse of the zoo's newest stars.

The two twin pandas together on a heated mattress on Monday morning. Photo: DPA

The cubs will be kept away from visitors “until they can walk properly” and are more familiar with their surroundings, Knieriem said, expected to be sometime in early 2020.

The birth of the cubs has delighted Berlin's oldest zoo as it is notoriously hard to breed pandas — and twins are even rarer.

Their mother Meng Meng and male giant panda Jiao Qing arrived in Berlin in June 2017 to great fanfare.

READ ALSO: Berlin zoo confirms panda Meng Meng is pregnant

China lends pandas to zoos around the world — a programme dubbed “panda diplomacy”.

Berlin zoo pays €13.5 million for a 15-year contract to host the adult pandas, with most of the money going towards a conservation and breeding research programme in China.

While the twin cubs were born in Berlin, they remain Chinese and must be returned to China within four years after they have been weaned.

About 1,864 pandas remain in the wild in China, up from around 1,000 in the late 1970s, according to the environmental group WWF.

Just over 400 pandas live in zoos around the world, in conservation projects set up with Beijing.

The species is considered “vulnerable” to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.