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Friday 16th December 2011
The media has recently been falling over themselves to report the arrival of two rent-a-pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo. Yes indeed, for a yearly rental fee exceeding that of the most sumptuous London penthouse apartment, the Zoo now has on display two pandas raised in captivity in China for a contract of ten years. Edinburgh Zoo expects a significant rise in visitor numbers to offset the rental costs, but let’s take a closer look at this pandamonium.
First, these are rented animals, to begin with a dicey practice for a zoo to get involved in. Would they rent a camel, an elephant, a polar bear? Not on your life, but a panda is different somehow. The rental fee has not quite been disclosed by the Zoo, as this would perhaps be crass. But journalists have mentioned $1 million per year, and we are not sure if this is for both “Sweetie” and “Sunshine” as the pandas are known, or whether this is $1 million for each. The Edinburgh Zoo last year lost £1.5m, saw its visitor numbers slump 15% to just under 550,000 and had to be rescued with a £2m bank loan. This year it has seen directors suspended for alleged misconduct. One was exonerated and reinstated, one was dismissed and its previous chief executive left, according to the Guardian newspaper and the Born Free website. They seem a bit like Lehman Brothers in terms of their investment practices.
Second, where does all the rent-a-panda money go? China says it is for panda conservation, but I have my doubts. There are some wild pandas in China. Little is being done to provide additional protected habitat for them. There are many pandas in captive breeding programmes, but pandas being pandas, once in captivity they seem to shut down reproductively and require a number of assisted breeding interventions to make baby pandas. Big time assisted breeding, as in artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, etc. But what is the future of those “assisted” pandas? More rent-a pandas? The only reintroduction attempt into the wild was a disaster, and the single panda involved died. This was kept quiet by the Chinese authorities for many months… In addition, is the public now convinced that Edinburgh Zoo will “save” pandas, and that therefore the dire situation of wild pandas is now being adequately addressed? Conservation via confuscation?
Third, what will Edinburgh do with these rent-a-pandas? Breed them? Good luck there, and for what purpose? To have more captive pandas that cannot be returned to the wild and thus contribute zip to real panda conservation? And who owns the offspring under their contract with China? Has Edinburgh Zoo read the fine print on the contract? Born Free provides this analysis from other zoos with rent-a-pandas:
Picture Credit: BBC Nature
Posted by Pieter Kat at 14:35
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