Pandas for hire

10:40, March 09, 2011      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

A male giant panda cub is weighed at the zoo in Vienna, November 2, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

It was just like any other state visit. A plane with a painted logo sat on the tarmac. Inside, the flight crew were all wearing tailor-made costumes.

The red carpet was out. TV cameras and fuzzy microphone-wielding reporters were at hand. Nearby cars got stuck in traffic as thousands of fans flooded Tokyo streets decorated with special cartoon banners.

Minutes later, the great bear and his first lady arrived: Bili and Xiannu, loaned to Japan for an annual fee of 79 million yuan (950,000 U.S. dollars), had ended their 30-hour journey from Sichuan Province to Tokyo.

Though sparking a public frenzy in the Japanese capital on February 21 and reportedly boosting the local economy by million U.S. dollars, the Ailuropoda melanoleuca at the center of all the Nippon hoopla were criticized for costing too much by a Japanese Times editorial headlined "Softer Touch with Pandas" on February 25.

With wild pandas already almost extinct in their motherland, other nations can borrow a captive panda for 10 years at up to 1 million U.S. dollars a year, a China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) official confirmed. "Pandas are dispatched overseas merely for international scientific research supported by foreign friends," said Zhong Yi, director of the association's International Affairs Office.

Partners donate their own preferred amount, explained China's "father of pandas" Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administration.

"All proposed panda imports are targeted at conservation," he said, avoiding all mention of previous "commercial loaning" prohibited since 1996 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Thanks to foreign exchange earnings from international projects, he revealed, China has expanded its panda research and conservation bases from 13 to 64.

A total of 30 pandas - nearly 10 percent of all of China's 317 captive pandas - were living overseas last year, according to the State Forestry Administration.

Panda diplomacy

For most countries, importing pandas boosts zoo visitor numbers and indicates improving bilateral ties with the world's second-largest economy. Animal rights campaigners vehemently oppose trading million-dollar cubs of an animal on the verge of extinction in its native land.

Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, a British conservation and animal rescue organization, opposed a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland plan to import two pandas to Edinburgh later this year on grounds of "animal exploitation." "This is pure politics with these unfortunate animals the unwitting diplomatic pawns to serve often obscure objectives of so-called national interest," he said.

Travers called on the British prime minister and Edinburgh zoo to focus on real and meaningful conservation of pandas in their diminishing natural habitat and leave panda diplomacy to the history books.

"It would be far more sensible to see the money being invested in good wildlife reserves in China," said Ross Minett, an animal sentience and behavior researcher at OneKind, a leading UK animal charity.

The best chance for pandas' survival is a carefully managed captive breeding program while at the same time working with those in the wild on protection of their environment, argued Gary Wilson, Edinburgh zoo's chief operating officer.

"Payments included within the loan agreement will go to the CWCA not the Chinese government," he said.

The Scottish cash was in fact supervised by the State Forestry Administration and its final use remained "flexible" or as "specified in the contract," said a CWCA project officer surnamed Zhang dealing with the zoo.

"Donors are obliged to oversee the whole budget spending based on an annual financial review and monthly reports provided by our association," she said, refusing to reveal any details of the contract.

As the alleged watchdogs over China's endangered animals, the State Forestry Administration manages policies and contracts that support global cooperation on panda research.

"Foreign donations will be reasonably allocated under most circumstances," said an official requested anonymity at the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Natural Reserve Management under the administration, "60 percent for wild panda preservation and 40 percent for giant panda breeding and research."

  Weekly review  

Source:Global Times

【1】 【2】 【3】

  • Do you have anything to say?


Special Coverage
  • Survey for 2011 NPC and CPPCC Sessions
  • Focus On China
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • Chilly rock style sweeps Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week
  • Algerian president attends ceremony marking Women's Day
  • Asian Aerospace Expo and Congress 2011 opens
  • Americans mark Int'l Women's Day in New York
  • Soccer legend Pele visits HK Football Club
  • Spider Man wax figure unveiled in Thailand's Madame Tussauds
Hot Forum Dicussion