Edinburgh’s Pandas Are Pointless

The Tab’s Robin Brinkworth doesn’t think much of dem pandas.

conservation Edinburgh Edinburgh Zoo opinion Pandas politics

Everyone loves Giant Pandas. They look cute, they’re endangered, and as the emblem of the WWF, they help raise money for conservation. With the flurry of ‘the pandas are shagging again’ news articles, here’s why it’s not that simple.

From a biological standpoint, pandas are bizarre. They are bears, and have digestive systems adapted for a carnivorous diet. Yet they eat almost solely bamboo, which is nutritionally worthless, requiring pandas to eat almost constantly to get the energy they need to survive. The fact that they only mate once a year, on some idle Tuesday under specific conditions, makes their presence in Edinburgh Zoo ridiculous.

Everyone loves pandas (Source: J. Patrick Fischer)

Everyone loves Giant Pandas (Source: J. Patrick Fischer)

Edinburgh Zoo having pandas isn’t helping the pandas.

They’re not ridiculous in themselves, their way of existence has existed for millions of years, but in captivity, the situation is laughable. In addition to having to fly in a very specific diet, pandas don’t mate at all well in captivity. The yearly period of fertility for females lasts about 36 hours, and during this period, pandas congregate and have a massive orgy. A female gets with as many males as she can.

Obviously this system doesn’t work well when there is only one pair in a zoo. Add to that the fact that pandas get nervous fucking in public (don’t we all), and the whole thing falls apart, especially when pandas are endangered and numbers are crucial to their survival.

Not too keen on the public watching...

Not too keen on the public viewing.

The pandas’ presence is political.

The pandas’ presence in Edinburgh Zoo massively boosts gate receipts, and a huge amount of merchandise gets sold off the back of them as well. The finances aren’t that simple though. Despite their presence being described as ‘a gift’ from China, the Zoo pays £600,000 yearly for them. For Edinburgh Zoo, this is a justifiable expense, with the money for the pandas being far outweighed by the benefit from increased visitor numbers. This is clearly a commercial deal, not a ‘gift’ or anything so friendly.

But that is how their presence is being sold to the public, as a generous decision from the Chinese state. Their presence can be argued to aid conservation efforts, by getting more children to see and be inspired by their presence. This is a legitimate argument. However, there is no doubt that the pandas are a political tool. Pandas are owned by the Chinese state like the Queen owns the swans. However, swans don’t look as cute, so they aren’t forced into service as symbolic ambassadors for the state.

Pandas’ are endangered primarily due to habitat destruction. Although China has now established reserves, but coming from a state that forced millions to move homes so it could build a dam, this comes across as a crass political move. If the pandas die out, China takes a huge hit on the public stage, and loses a valuable diplomatic tool. But, if China protects the pandas, and ships them around the world getting good PR and a nice boost diplomatically, then other conservation and environmental concerns can be overlooked.

Spot the sexy beast

Spot the sexy beast. (Source: BBC News, photo: PA)

First Minister Alex Salmond was in China to sign a ‘cultural exchange’ deal when the pandas arrived in the UK, and the original deal to transfer the pandas was witnessed by Nick Clegg and the Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang. The move was definitely not political at all.

This isn’t Edinburgh Zoo’s fault. They have got a great commercial deal from the heart-warming generosity of the Chinese state, and are using it to inspire thousands of kids towards conservation. That is a good thing. However, China taking advantage of the iconic nature of the panda, and using them as a political tool in a way that doesn’t aid their own survival, is not such a good thing.

Here’s something to cheer you up: