Tian Tian and the Panda Propaganda
After months of build-up, Edinburgh Zoo has at last admitted today that its giant panda, Tian Tian, is not pregnant.
Long before this announcement, the news was awash with frivolous panda articles. Stories about panda love tunnels, hormone changes, mood music and even panda porn, all released by the Edinburgh Zoo, have helped the zoo to profit from these captive animals. Despite all the headline-grabbing mating gimmicks, the zoo failed to override the notoriously detrimental impact of captivity on the natural desire of the animals to breed.
The Edinburgh Zoo is paying China £600,000 a year to display two pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, and was prepared to pay an estimated £320,000 for each surviving cub. In her article in The Herald, PETA Senior Programme Manager Yvonne Taylor looked at the panda business:
The zoo community’s exploitation of one of the world’s most “aww”-inspiring animals has been a marketing bonanza. Since the launch of the “rent-a-panda” programme in the 1970s, the public has been manipulated into believing that they must see this specific species.
Zoos barter, beg and negotiate to display pandas and their babies, which bring in millions of paying visitors. The original intent of the programme – habitat preservation in China – has become an afterthought.
Pandas are sensitive and shy animals which, if left alone, shun contact with humans. Their soulful eyes disguise the suffering they endure when they are carted around from zoo to zoo as profitable marketing tools.
Breeding pandas in captivity is all about the money. Had she been born, Tian Tian’s cub would have spent her entire life denied freedom, besieged by a constant onslaught of visitors, separated from her mother, shunted from one zoo to another, artificially inseminated and treated as a commodity. The fact that one more panda has not been born to suffer for human amusement is a sad relief. Only one captive-bred panda has ever been released back into the wild, and the poor animal lived only about a year.
Just imagine what impact the money spent on this failed breeding programme could actually have had if it had been used instead to help pandas in the wild! Unless aggressive action is taken to curtail illegal logging, protect forested bamboo and stop development in the limited wild habitat left for pandas, all hope of saving these animals in the wild will be lost.
So please don’t buy into the hype. If you care about wild animals, don’t visit zoos which turn them into prisoners – give your money instead to habitat conservation programmes which could make a real difference to their chances of survival.