Pandas are not bartering tools

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) reiterates its stand  against the panda diplomacy loan to Malaysia. Loaning and transferring these sensitive animals and putting them on display in zoos causes pandas undue stress and does nothing to protect their rapidly diminishing natural habitat.

The RM30 million enclosure that is to be built offers nothing to pandas  except deprivation and relegating these iconic animals to a lifetime of boredom. They are constantly  besieged by an onslaught of visitors apart from being artificially and invasively bred.  Attempts to breed pandas have done little to propagate the species. On top of that the Federal Government  will be paying giant panda debt for a decade.  And time frame for paying off the panda debt depends on several factors including visitation, other revenue and panda babies.

SAM is highly shocked and critical of the fact that the panda enclosure will be flanked by an aviary and a mini zoo. It is absolutely ridiculous to have another aviary and a mini zoo when such animal establishments abound in nearly all states.  Not to mention the appalling condition in nearly all such  zoo establishments.

Again SAM needs to question the poor skills and questionable competencies of our Wildlife department towards our own endangered species so can they really handle a species which they know very little about? In fact the appalling zoo conditions, continuous wildlife poaching and trade, loss of crucial wildlife habitats and the high number of roadkills  is proof of lack of due diligence, which is hardly  convincing. Then again do we have qualified veterinarians who are well versed with the diseases that are most harmful to the survival of the giant pandas?

Giant pandas have extreme dietary requirements that make them vulnerable to extinction. The diet of a giant panda is 99 per cent bamboo, which grows only in very specific areas.  Any diseases that affect bamboo can also affect pandas since they rely almost exclusively on it for a source of nutrition.  Additionally the life cycle of bamboo can affect panda because bamboo is typically dormant before it regenerates which means that a lack of bamboo can cause the pandas to starve.  Environmental stresses caused by humans can lead to longer periods of bamboo dormancy, the fact that bamboo is not always prevalent strongly affects the life cycle of pandas as well.

China has long pursued panda diplomacy as a sign of warm diplomatic relations.  But questions are to be raised  about the financial motives behind a decision that looks likely like running a lucrative business in hiring the animals out.  Pandas are an endangered species, not a commodity to be traded for human amusement.

Although it was created to encourage habitat preservation, the panda diplomacy program has shifted from protecting pandas in the wild to attracting paying customers in zoos and boost the tourism dollars.  In addition pandas have become political and profitable bartering tools.

The goal was to increase their numbers and reintroduce them back into the wild.  Should we then be educating the public about the giant panda as a wild animal and stop the exploitation of the public’s infatuation with them and trying to capitalize on that? The focus should be on educating the public towards that goal.

Letter to the Editor, 23 August 2012