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.