Discussion On Whether The Giant Panda Is A Species Worth Saving

Climate change is our reality and the effects will be catastrophic for our planet's future if drastic action is not taken. I believe tough decisions need to be made that may indeed cause much debate on our moral, emotional and ethical standards. Professor Wilson’s statement shows the importance of creatures many people don’t give a second thought to saving, and raises the question ‘what animals are really worth saving?’ The giant panda raises significant questions. With countries spending millions of dollars each year to maintain these animals, are we justified in saving the giant panda?

A perfectly suited ‘cute ambassador’, iconic hero in Kung Fu Panda for Dreamworks animation and emblem for the World Wildlife Fund it comes as no surprise that most people want to do whatever they can to help save this dreadfully endangered species. Pandas entice our emotional empathy and therefore receive a disproportionate amount of funding. However, are we blinded by their appealing appearance?

Many species have indeed slipped through mankind's radar becoming extinct without appearing on a single poster or t-shirt simply because they do not adhere to our vision of beauty. A perfect example is the Yangtze river dolphin, which once lived in China’s freshwater Yangtze river. It is almost ironic that a country which allows us to believe it is doing everything in its power to save its’ giant panda could allow such a species to become extinct. Although, not the most attractive they played a fundamental role in our planet’s ecosystem. If the same efforts had gone into saving them as those which have gone into saving the Giant panda then we may not be facing many of today's environmental issues.

Is it appropriate to put a price on the life of a species? To issue a cost can feel extremely, cold-hearted and cruel. However, it cannot be denied that the money being thrown at conservation efforts dedicated to saving the Giant Panda are becoming harder and harder to justify, with very few results showing much promise. Sweetie and Sunshine, Edinburgh Zoo’s most anticipated attraction, brought over from China in 2011, have cost the zoo a massive financial amount of £700,000 a year, spending £70,000 on bamboo alone. With such high costs to simply feed these animals, it raises concern as there is a need for funding to help prevent new issues such as; the rapid and catastrophic effects of plastic on our planet’s sea life as well as lasting issues such as the dire state of the rainforests of the world. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to justify ‘single-species conservation’ saving one animal instead of funding efforts to save entire ecosystems.

When investigating the true motives behind organizations and individual governments funding the giant panda there is an alarming amount of evidence suggesting it may be more of a financial investment used to increase profit, discarding any thought for the animal. It is very true that the giant panda is an increasingly expensive animal to preserve, making it hard for many to see how anyone could gain profit by funding such efforts. However, once you break down the financial transactions and methods of raising ‘awerness’ often used by leading corporations it becomes increasingly questionable what their true motives really are. A perfect example of an individual party which most likely exploits the giant panda for profit is the Chinese government; Who charge Edinburgh zoo a massive total of £600,000 each year for the right to simply keep these animals.

As well as being a great expense, the diet of the giant panda causes them many problems; Despite having almost perfect features for a carnivore animal, such as their sharp teeth and claws, the giant panda due to a change in the environment; has over time evolved into predominantly a herbivore. Although this change in diet, some two million years ago was likely the most efficient thing for the giant panda to have done when there is was a far greater abundance of bamboo. Nonetheless, the giant panda is now suffering some evolutionary backlash today; as 2 million years is a very short period in evolutionary terms, and their digestive system has still not sufficiently evolved to process this primarily vegetarian diet efficiently. Causing them only to process around “17%”, of the bamboo that they consume despite eating almost 2 stone a day.

Giant pandas eat huge capacities of bamboo spending up to “14 hours a day eating”. Bamboo causes many problems for the Giant panda, in fact, the lack of bamboo poses a great threat than predators. This lack of a food source applies extra pressure to the Giant panda as bamboo is a very “poor nutritional source” resulting in the Giant panda requiring very little energy and even affecting their offspring. Causing cubs to be born extremely small, only weighing about 5 ounces, blind and defenceless. This intern has a negative effect on the infant mortality rates as the vulnerable cubs have a much low chance of survival. The pandas' inability to adapt to change may have sealed its fate.

Breeding programs such as Chengdu costs millions of dollars a year but many have been unsuccessful. Unfortunately, pandas have a very low birth rate, one cub every two years but the fragility of the cubs leads to a very low mortality rate. Indeed, China has been viewed as renting pandas out for financial gain, ‘Pandas are loaned in pairs over 10 years at a cost of 1 million dollars a year’. Further fees incur if a cub is born and this cub must be returned to China at 36 months old. If these cubs face captivity in a zoo from birth to death, an unnatural life, we should reconsider saving this species. This begs the question, are these majestic animals on natures natural extinction list? Extinction is a natural part of life on our planet, for example, the world has continued with the extinction of the dinosaur.

In order to help protect these animals, we end up altering the very nature in which they so heavily rely on to survive in their natural environment. A perfect example of this is, Xiang Xiang a panda who was set free in April of 2006; despite having spent years training to acquire the basic skills to survive the panda still seemed to yearn for human contact. Unfortunately, the animal was unable to survive and after only a short period of time, less than a year Xiang Xiang was discovered dead, no matter what training was provided for Xiang Xiang it was inevitable that this poor creature would be able to survive in the wild after a life in captivity.

When we observe these enchanting, creatures behind a glass screen the moral ethics of what we are doing to ‘save’ the Giant panda must become a matter of accountability. Is it fair for an entire species to face a life in captivity, with no option of a natural sustaining life in the environment that nature intended? Indeed are we saving the panda in a selfish attempt to save an icon, a symbol of an organization WWF that’s sole aim is to protect and conserve. Are we really protecting the commercial impact that the panda has on the prospective donations drawn from the emotional ties to mankind's heartstrings?

In conclusion in trying to ‘save’ the Giant panda, we could, in fact, be being crueler. As Peter Scot once said “We shall not save everything, but we shall save a great deal more if we never tried” by disallowing nature to take its natural course we are causing the Giant panda to face a cruel and unjustified alternative way of life; all in a bid to mend the guilt that mankind faces due to being the undeniable cause of this animals suffering.   

16 December 2021
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