Endangered Panda-monium

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In our last two classes, it was brought to our attention that many species are overlooked because they may not be as “cute” as others. After watching The Cove, for example, we discussed the “emotional connection” we have with dolphins and how this may influence our desire to protect them. Appearance and symbolism can play a large role in preservation, as evidenced by the giant panda. I read an interesting article on National Geographic’s website called “Is Breeding Pandas in Captivity Worth It?” Pandas are the symbol for the World Wildlife Foundation and may be the most recognizable conservation symbol in the world. They are an endangered species, with fewer than 2,000 remaining in the forests of China. According to the 2013 article, around 300 live in captivity as well.

There is a great debate, however, on whether pandas should be bred in captivity. Millions of dollars are spent to keep these animals in zoos, mostly because they are a main attraction that might encourage visitors to care about their protection. They may be “inspirational icons”, as referred to in the article, but there is little evidence that captive breeding helps their population.

Many suggest that a better use of money would be to preserve panda habitat. Even though the goal is to release the pandas into the wild after they’re bred in captivity, their habitat most likely wouldn’t sustain them. In addition, we must ask the question: are pandas becoming dependent on zookeepers? Caged pandas are provided food and shelter; could this dependence lead to an inability to survive in the wild?

A common suggestion is to restore the China forests and grow the population in their natural habitat. But as stated in the article, “captive breeding is an integral part of that goal.” It is a very difficult balance.

And meanwhile, as people fight over money spent on captive breeding versus habitat preservation, many endangered species are neglected entirely. It’s unfortunate, but it’s simply not possible to protect every single endangered species on the planet. I think it’s important that we turn our attention to overhunting, overfishing, and the other ways in which humans impact wildlife populations for unnecessary purposes. But we must also realize that it’s not always our fault.

I read another article, which pointed out that giant pandas eat only bamboo. This is clearly a very limited diet; they are dependent on a single food source. While pandas eat through their food supplies, society tears down bamboo forests for land use and product manufacturing. With their limited diets, pandas are a difficult species to protect.

Pandas are beautiful creatures, and no one wants to see them die. But we must ask the question: where do we draw the line for money use? How do we control the species in captivity versus the wild? And how do we divide the funds between pandas and the rest of earth’s endangered species?

-Brenna Thummler

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