Chu Lin, the first giant panda born in Europe, died 15 years ago, on April 29, 1996.
His birth is still one of happiest moments in panda history, but his death is also one of the saddest moments.
Let’s look back at Chu Lin’s life at Zoo Madrid.
A pair of giant pandas, Shao Shao & Chang Chang, arrived at Zoo Madrid (which was then called Zoo de la Casa de Campo) on December 24, 1978. They were a goodwill gift from the People’s Republic of China to the Spanish King Juan Carlos. The female, Shao Shao, was born at Beijing Zoo on September 18, 1975. The male, Chang Chang, was born in the wild approximately in 1973.
Both panda’s lived together in harmony since the day they arrived in Spain.
In Spring of 1982 a natural mating occurred between Chang Chang & Shao Shao. But the staff of Zoo Madrid was not sure if the male was fertile enough. For this reason they performed artificial insemination on Shao Shao with semen from another male panda. Zoo Madrid collaborated with London Zoo and they received the sperm from their male Chia Chia.
Chu Lin was born on September 4, 1982. The staff at Zoo Madrid had no experience with panda cubs, nobody had real knowledge about these things back in those days. But the team of panda keeper Mario Robledillo and panda mother Shao Shao did a very good job in raising Chu Lin.
A second cub was born a few hours after Chu Lin’s birth. Shao Shao didn’t take care of this cub and veterinarians at the zoo tried to bottle feed this cub. She sadly died after 3 days.
Chu Lin soon became one of the biggest stars of Zoo Madrid. Shao Shao & Chu Lin came outside of the birthing den for the first time in March 1983. Many visitors enjoyed watching him in the yard.
The Spanish Group ‘Enrique Y Ana’ wrote a song, La Canción Del Panda, as a celebration for his Chu Lin’s birth. This song became very popular in Spain and they still teach it to young children.
La Canción Del Panda became one of the songs of ‘La Banda de Chu-Lin’, a children’s show with puppets that was running at Zoo Madrid in the Summer.
Chu Lin’s mother, Shao Shao, died suddenly on October 23, 1983 from salmonella.
Not much later, Chu Lin went to live with his father Chang Chang. Or isn’t he his father? These days, panda experts in China know how to do DNA-test on pandas to determine their fathers, but this technique wasn’t invented yet. The zoo keepers and vets think that it is 99% sure that Chia Chia is Chu Lin’s father, but still there is 1% chance that it is Chang Chang. At least we know for sure that Chang Chang & Chu Lin lived together in harmony. It is very unusual that two adult pandas live together, but two adult male pandas is even more exceptional.
I visited Chang Chang & Chu Lin on a hot Summer day in 1994.
When Chu Lin grew up, Zoo Madrid tried to find a girlfriend for him. But it didn’t work out.
Chang Chang died on October 13, 1995 from a stroke.
The keepers noticed that Chu Lin suffered much from the loss of Chang Chang. Chu Lin died only 6 months later from intestine problems. His keepers are still not sure if these intestine problems were caused by the pain of the losing his panda pall.
To honor Chu Lin, Queen Sofia of Spain came to Zoo Madrid on June 26, 1997 to officially inaugurate a beautiful statue of the panda made by Rager. The statue has an inscription ‘Los Ninos a Chu Lin’ which means from the children to Chu Lin.
Ten years later, on September 8, 2007, a new breeding pair of giant pandas arrived on loan from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. And I believe that Chu Lin is watching Bing Xing & Hua Zui Ba’s cubs Po & De De and that he is very happy that a new generation of children can enjoy panda cubs in Madrid.
I had the chance to talk to Chu Lin’s former keeper Mario Robledillo today. Mario is now responible for all keepers @ Zoo Madrid. Chu Lin will always keep a special place in Mario’s heart. As he will keep in mine…
Pambassador Jeroen Jacobs