Panda Diplomacy

Yesterday I attended an applicant day at Cumbria University, where I’m planning to study Wildlife Media this September. It was a great day and I can’t wait to get underway with my degree.

On the way back to the station, I spotted a quaint little book shop. Instantly drawn, I ventured inside and emerged clutching two new discoveries – “RSPB Birds: Their Hidden World” and “The Nature Magpie: A cornucopia of facts, anecdotes, folklore and literature from the natural world.”

Once settled on the train, I got stuck into the latter. The first article that got me thinking was ‘Panda Diplomacy’, which featured a quote from Chris Packham:

Here is a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Unfortunately, it’s big and cute and a symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation… I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity.

I love pandas, just as much as the next person with eyes, but Packham’s words were sobering. It’s true that pandas make life hard for themselves by limiting their diet to one source: bamboo. In such desperate times, when funding for conservation is so scarce, should we start making sacrifices for the better good of the whole ecosystem? Pandas are the most expensive animal in the world to keep, five times more so than elephants. Edinburgh Zoo is already paying six million pounds to the Chinese government just for the loan of their pandas, let alone their upkeep.

In the wild, pandas are not essential to the food chain. Studies have proven that ecosystems fail without the presence of predators, which keep populations below the carrying capacity – the maximum possible population in a habitat at one time. This suggests we should be focussing our financial efforts on the top trophic levels; carnivores like tigers and bears. These animals keep prey populations under control, which in turn maintains biodiversity amongst producers essential to all survival on Earth.

When conserving every living thing is not an option, perhaps it is time to be cruel to be kind. It would be very sad indeed to lose an animal as beautiful as the giant panda, but I believe it may be time to take on a more realistic approach if we are to improve a vanishing natural world.

4 thoughts on “Panda Diplomacy

  1. I know what you mean – but I wonder what happens if the policy would be changed like you say! So at the moment, it is general consensus that we really want to try to save all endangered species out there. I think most people will agree that each species lost is a tragedy!! But if we say that a certain species is too expensive to rescue, then the bargaining will start with each species every time! People will start to discuss whether a species is “worth keeping”… nowadays, a company could never admit that they harm or even critically endanger a species without fearing a public outcry, but this might change, too. Maybe the public would also consider losing one or the other species to be acceptable? I agree that it might be strange to spend so much money on one single species if the same amount could save 20 not-so-prominent species… but I think it would be dangerous to just completely dismiss the pandas and “set of an avalanche”?!

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    1. I see what you mean. It’s much more likely for the public to see a picture of a panda and donate than if they see some endangered moth species. Even though they’re so expensive, pandas are just easier to fall in love with.

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