As Edinburgh Zoo announces its latest plan to encourage the giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian to reproduce,some quarters of the press have responed with predictable excitement . What could be better than the UK’s first giant panda cub?
Well, as far as Born Free is concerned, quite a lot. What is needed is a lot more panda cubs in the wild, not in zoos.
If captive breeding is to have any part to play in saving the giant panda, it is abundantly clear that it should take place in China, close to or preferably in natural panda habitat and on a scale far greater than Edinburgh Zoo or the other metropolitan zoos around the world could ever achieve. Furthermore, captive breeding on its own is useless without extensive efforts to retain and re-establish natural panda habitat. Pandas without their natural habitat would be condemned to a sort of conservation limbo.
What is astonishing is the lengths that zoos will go to in order to try to get ‘their’ pandas to breed (they are never ‘their’ pandas – they always belong to China). Indeed, Iain Valentine of Edinburgh Zoo is quoted as saying “Time and again you get people saying that they [the pandas] are in an evolutionary cul-de-sac and don’t know how to breed – yes they do. They have been doing it very successfully for millions of years”. This contrasts starkly with the Zoo’s plan to use artificial insemination should natural methods fail, and to place any cubs in incubators.
Similarly, the pandas are apparently being trained for ultrasound scans, to urinate on command, to present for blood samples, etc.. The male is even being trained to “cope” with mounting the female. All of this is a long, long way from what wild pandas do.
Other aspects of life in captivity are beginning to have their effect: Yang Gang has apparently been “unsettled” by fireworks, high winds and passing planes. The Born Free Foundation has long been concerned about the effect of fireworks and noisy events at or near zoos on animals .
It all just goes to show that money and publicity cannot compensate for the fact that the pandas are in a zoo; not where they belong