Much ado about nothing?
It is that time of year again: the weather is warm, the days are long and Edinburgh Zoo is thrusting its pandas into the headlines. In what has become something of a “groundhog day” event, the Zoo has once again announced that there is a strong indication that the female Tian Tian has conceived as a result of artificial insemination.
Let’s not forget the similar headlines this time last year announcing a successful conception – also by artificial insemination – which ultimately resulted in disappointment for the Zoo and the crowds lured to the zoo as a result of the relentless publicity, when Tian Tian showed no further sign of pregnancy. Nor should we forget the previous (ultimately futile) attempts to encourage the pandas to breed naturally.
As far as Born Free is concerned there is little to be excited about. The birth of a baby panda in captivity does not affect the current state of play in the wild where – despite China’s increasing efforts – human expansion and the destruction of panda habitat remain the most pressing issues. With the chances of release to the wild being little to none, and little evidence that funds raised by keeping pandas at Edinburgh are making a significant contribution to support panda conservation, it is hard to find a reason to celebrate.
Although a birth may be ‘rare’ in captivity (outside China), pandas have no difficulty in reproducing when given the opportunity in their natural environment. Protection of the remaining wild panda population is paramount to the success of this species: the birth of a panda cub at Edinburgh Zoo will not ensure this outcome. I am certain this won’t be the last we hear of the trials and tribulations of panda conception and pregnancy at Edinburgh Zoo, but many experts agree that the real long-term future of the species lies in China and in the wild.