Panda pregnancies – facts on panda conservation

While Edinburgh Zoo remains suspiciously silent as the due date of their much-anticipated and highly-publicised possible baby panda slips by, researchers at the Chengdu Research Base in China reveal pictures of an assembled collection of 14 captive-bred panda cubs, from a total of 20 born at the facility this year alone.

What this demonstrates is that breeding pandas in captivity, at least by using artificial insemination in China, is no longer a challenge. So why the song and dance about the (seemingly fading) possibility of a panda cub at Edinburgh Zoo? After “natural” mating was deemed to have failed, Edinburgh Zoo attempted costly, invasive artificial insemination of the female panda Tian Tian in April 2013. Since then, the media has been almost saturated with coverage of the possibility of a new baby panda, with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for a Royal baby.

What is lacking in all of the hysteria is some perspective. Recall that the import of the two adult pandas to Edinburgh Zoo was a “primarily commercial” transaction, with some speculation as to whether much of the £6m fee paid to the Chinese Government will likely filter through to assist in the conservation of pandas in the wild. Captive pandas, and especially captive baby pandas, may sell newspapers and drive visitors to zoos but they do little or nothing for the long-term security of the species.

Dr Sarah Bexell, director of Conservation Education at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, was reported as saying that captive-bred pandas are no more than a ‘caricature’ of the real thing: “The cute, fluffy panda stories that we always read, where the scientists are saving the panda and everything is OK, are actually hurting the wild pandas.”

If ever there was an example of a zoo diverting our focus away from the very challenges of genuine conservation, this could be it.


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