“Save the panda” is a well-established mantra of the environmental movement, and it’s an entirely understandable one. The animals’ natural habitat is under threat, there are few left in the wild, and, let’s face it, they look really cute.
But is that enough to warrant our sympathy and intervention? Surely the panda itself should also want to survive, and that appears to be in doubt. I was amused to read this article on BBC News about some (excuse the pun) baby steps in panda breeding programmes in China. The article describes how panda breeding is hard work (even if you’re a panda) because of various behaviours and characteristics – such as a lack of “oomph” while in captivity, a short window of opportunity in the reproductive cycle, anatomical impracticalities, and variable pregnancy lengths.
Amusingly, the article states:
Researchers then employed methods ranging from sex education videos to viagra in order to stimulate natural behaviour. Most techniques failed, and many encounters between pandas turned aggressive and violent.
I think the scientists involved are, for all their knowledge and good intentions, missing something quite obvious: pandas just can’t be bothered existing any more.
And it’s not just their reproduction: the article also reminds us that they eat bamboo and nothing else, which is very low in nutrients meaning pandas spend most of their time eating to avoid wasting away. So either the poor panda was left with the scraps when survival instincts were handed out, or for some reason – perhaps collective depression, despair at Chinese foreign policy or the rise of reality TV shows – they have just given up on Planet Earth and are ready to just slip off the radar quietly and die with dignity.
In which case, why don’t we let them? I’m all in favour of diversity, but if by protecting the panda we maintain the very worst genetic and behavioural traits in the animal world then we’re not doing anyone any favours. Yes they look pretty, but as many celebrities prove, looks aren’t enough to guarantee success. You’ve got to work at it, want it.
And pandas just don’t want success. In fact it seems they don’t want anything substantial. So let’s treat them with some respect and give them the one thing they are keen to embrace.
I wonder what panda burgers taste like?