Pandas are almost universally seen as one of the main symbols of the conservation movement. Even the World Wide Fund for Nature uses a panda on its logo. The thing is, despite the love for them and their status in the conservation movement, pandas represent one of the biggest wastes of time and money in the environmental conservation movement.
Humans have screwed up pandas too much, and as tragic as it is, saving pandas is not worth the resources and time it would take, not to mention that which has already been poured in.
First of all, let’s acknowledge the role humans have played in pushing pandas to the point where they are. Chris Packham of BBC2’s “Springwatch” has argued that any attempt to keep the animals alive, even in captivity for later release, is pointless because there isn’t enough of their natural habitat left to sustain them.
Rampant deforestation across China in the last century has confined pandas to isolated regions in the southwest of the country, an area only big enough to support a relatively small population.
As Packham said, “Even the WWF admitted there is no longer enough land for them to live on.” Sustaining something with no great hope of ever reintroducing it to the wild is irresponsible and wasteful. Packham put it well when he said that it is time to “let them go with a degree of dignity.”
Even if there was enough natural habitat available for pandas to survive and thrive with a large enough starter population, breeding them in captivity is turning out to be a major problem.
The first complication is the sex drive of pandas.
At one point, only 25 percent of male pandas in captivity were attempting to mate, and that number has only increased through scientists showing panda porn to young male pandas. The females aren’t exactly helping much either, since they genetically only show sexual excitement before their once-a-year ovulation.
This means that a panda’s mating window is just 24 to 72 hours long each year.
Moreover, the ideal conditions of panda mating can’t be replicated in captivity, which means it’s really hard to get populations up.
As the BBC reports, “threesomes or more-somes are pretty standard for giant pandas in the wild, an arrangement that would be hard to replicate in any zoo.” This would seem to suggest that conservationists should just leave pandas to recover in the wild and keep them protected.
However, as Packham said earlier, their natural habitat has been reduced to the point where it isn’t large enough to support a population. In other words, the only place where place where pandas are able to mate sufficiently to keep their species going is a place where they can’t grow large enough to reach a truly sustainable population.
Because of the panda’s status as the poster animal for zoos and conservation movements, they receive a huge portion of the money donated to such causes.
Will Travers, CEO of the wildlife-advocacy group Born Free USA, said that pandas “receive millions and millions worth of support,” but that large amount of this “is directed in a wasteful way” due to the obsession with keeping pandas around.
The Edinburgh Zoo, for example paid over $9 million annually to China in order to obtain two of the animals in an attempt to breed them in captivity.
Pandas are cute, but attempts by humans to save them are futile, both due to human actions and panda mating problems.
That money would be better spent elsewhere in the conservation movement, and it is time that we let pandas go into the wild, or at least into protected panda sanctuaries, to survive on their own or go with dignity.