Pandas are very cute, but they don’t do much for their ecosystem, and they take away a lot of resources from other endangered plants and animals that support multitudes. Following is a transcript of the video.
Here’s a hot take – pandas are OVERRATED. Sure, they’re cute. SO cute that they show up in our logos, movies, and even on our feet. We’re obsessed! But every obsession has a dark side, and this one starts in China.
The Chinese government owns nearly all the giant pandas on earth. And American zoos will shell out up to $1 million a year to rent just one. Most sign 10-year “panda diplomacy” contracts, and if any baby cubs are born, they pay an additional one-time $400,000 baby tax.
That doesn’t even include extra costs like the bear’s enclosure, medical care, and mountains of bamboo. But zoos are far from going bankrupt over pandas. In 2012, attendance at the Edinburgh Zoo rose 51% after pandas arrived. And food and merchandise sales at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, nearly doubled from $5.5 million in 2000 to $10.3 million after their two pandas arrived in 2001.
While that money is great for the zoos, it’s not necessarily the best for the pandas.
Marc Bekoff : “My view is regardless of whether they are an important source of revenue, we do not need any more pandas in captivity. We should stop breeding them right away. And they are not ambassadors for their species.”
Turns out, breeding pandas in captivity is a completely different ball game than in the wild. Threesomes are more or less the norm when it comes to wild-panda sex – something that’s difficult to replicate in zoos. On top of that, wild pandas have a mating routine that involves courting calls and scent markings that can last weeks. But in captivity, the chosen pair is often separated right up to when the female is ovulating. As a result, they rarely hit it off. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee the cub will live.
Regardless, we are dead set on keeping this species alive. And why wouldn’t we? They’re freakin’ adorable! Their round head, seemingly large eyes, and Cabbage Patch Kid bodies remind us of babies, and that triggers a nurturing response.
Ultimately, what it boils down to is this: People care about cute critters. Period.
Marc Bekoff : “Animals like ants, and some of the insects, have far more ecosystem value than do pandas, or elephants, or wolves, or all the charismatic animals. I mean, it’s a fact.”
Mangrove forests, for example, support at least 1,300 animal species with their roots, fruit, and branches. So saving them is like saving their entire ecosystem. Pandas, by comparison, don’t affect many other lifeforms, so saving them saves the pandas but not much else. Yet, it’s the cuddly pandas who qualify as a poster species for conservation organizations. Not the mangroves.
Of the nearly 20,000 endangered animal species, only 80 get the lion’s share of the already scarce funding. And one study found that 61% of conservation campaigns ONLY raised funds for these “celebrity species.” But as the World Wildlife Fund’s logo, pandas really hit the ultimate conservation jackpot.
When the World Wildlife Fund was founded in 1961, it distributed all printed materials in black and white. You know what else was black and white? Pandas! Pandas looked just as cute in color as they did in gray scale, so, voilà. But the sad irony is the main reason pandas were endangered in the first place is habitat destruction – yet even with all their funding, it’s not enough to prevent further habitat decline.
Marc Bekoff : “But the one thing about pandas is, and it’s not necessarily unique to them, the reason they [were] endangered is because of humans. The major problem on this planet is that there are too many humans. And the loss of habitat, and because pandas are specialists, you know, basically eating bamboo, when they lose their habitat, their homes, they lose their lives.”
Construction, logging, and an influx of tourists continue to diminish and disjoint the panda’s natural habitat. And if the whole point of these hefty funds and breeding programs is to rebuild wild populations, we’re sucking at it.
In 2006, the Chinese government started reintroducing pandas to the wild, but only five of those seven are still alive. In fact, of all the species listed as endangered since 1973, 99% are still around, but only 1% – ONE – have been successfully rehabilitated and taken off the list.
Marc Bekoff : “You know, some people say, ‘Well, if there were no pandas in the wild, would it be worthwhile having pandas in captivity?’ And my answer is, ‘No!’ I would rather see the money go into preserving habitat and then saving individuals of other species.”
Maybe it’s time to end the era of pent-up pandas. After all, we’ll always have “Kung Fu Panda” to enjoy guilt-free.