It’s been almost seven years since giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian arrived at Edinburgh Zoo on a 10-year loan from China. Since then, the possibility of a panda cub being born at the Zoo has been one of the biggest news stories in the country with every step of each failed pregnancy attempt splashed across the media.
The decision to try and impregnate Tian Tian has very little to do with conservation, and is nothing more than a PR exercise to attract more visitors to the zoo. Here’s five reasons why we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the impending birth from one of the UK’s only giant pandas.
- These pandas will spend their whole life in captivity
You just have to look at the panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo to realise it is no substitute for a life in the wild. After all, how many animals in their natural habitat sit behind a glass wall while a constant stream of visitors take photos of them? The main goal of captive breed programmes should be to release them back into the wild, but this is very difficult with pandas. In the past, captive bred pandas have been attacked by wild pandas when they’ve been released. It means the majority of animals will end up living their whole life being shipped between zoos around the world.
- Artificial insemination is invasive
When pandas breed in the wild, they are free to choose a mate for themselves but Tian Tian hasn’t been allowed to do this. She has had to undergo multiple invasive artificial insemination procedures over the years, in a desperate bid by Edinburgh Zoo to impregnate her.
- We need to stop using animals as entertainment
In the past few years, there’s been a noticeable change in people’s attitudes to animals being used in entertainment. The documentary Blackfish, about the controversial capture of killer whales, is a notable example of that. There was public outcry when it was released in 2013, and people started to boycott Sea World attractions. So why is one black and white creature’s life seen more important than another? Giant pandas are still wild animals being held in captivity. Yet for some reason, we still seem to think it’s normal to look at them from behind a glass wall in a zoo.
- Breeding in captivity will not help conservation
It’s true, breeding in captivity will not help conservation. Instead of spending money on breeding giant pandas in zoos, the money would be much better spent on preserving their threatened habitat. I know people in Scotland will be excited about the prospect of being able to see a new baby panda in Edinburgh, but its illogical to think that paying to see an animal in a cage on the other side of the world from its natural habitat will help conservation. There’s lots of great conservation charities that your ticket money would be much better spent on.
- Keeping wild animals in captivity is dangerous
There have been several incidents in zoos around the world where wild animals have attacked people. Three visitors were mauled in Beijing Zoo over a three-year period after failing or jumping into giant panda enclosures. Last year, Edinburgh Zoo has its own dangerous incident when a leaked email and CCTV footage revealed a member of staff was put at risk when a giant panda made its way into the enclosure before she was finished cleaning it. The email also went onto suggest the animal could have escaped to public areas of the zoo too.
What do you think? Should pandas be bred in zoos? Am I a killjoy? Let me know in the comments below…