Death Panel Proposed for Pandas

By Brent Fewell

Interesting and thought-provoking article this week by Tim Lavin over at Bloomberg pandatitled “Why I Hate Pandas and You Should Too.”  The gist of Lavin’s discrimination and hatred toward the cute and cuddly panda stems from his violent disagreement with spending tens of millions of conservation dollars to save a Darwinian-challenged species, when that money could be better spent on more important, sustainable conservation efforts.  Excerpts of Lavin’s article,

Congratulations on your new panda cub, Washington! You’re prolonging the existence of a hopeless and wasteful species the world should’ve given up on long ago.  I understand the impulse. Some people find them cute.  Pandas don’t have much of a habitat left in the wild, thanks to heedless human development. And zoos imagine they’re doing the right thing, pulling in some extra visitors while helping conservation efforts.

But the first test of a species’ worthiness for conservation should be some instinct for self-preservation. And pandas fail objectively.  First, their breeding habits don’t suggest a species brimming with vitality. Pandas at a research center in Chengdu were so disinclined to mate that workers there subjected the poor things to Viagra and videos of other bears procreating, hoping they’d get the idea. Zoos, including in Washington, more often resort to artificial insemination. In the wild, where birthrates aren’t much better, pandas are prone to inbreeding. Females only ovulate for a few days each year, and if a mother does manage to have more than one cub, she abandons the weakling. That’s fine; nature’s mean. But don’t whine when a species with such habits falls into inexorable decline.

Second, although blessed with a bear’s predatory teeth, the lethargic beasts eat almost nothing but bamboo — a plant that’s nearly devoid of nutritional value and disappearing in the wild. Pandas consume 40 pounds of it a day, eating constantly, speeding their own demise.  “Here’s a species that of its own accord has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac,” Chris Packham, a British author and wildlife activist, said in 2009. He argues that “the panda is possibly one of the grossest wastes of conservation money in the last half-century.”

He’s right. The economics of protecting this doomed species are simply unjustifiable. Canada last year spent $10 million renting the creatures from China while cutting government spending elsewhere. American zoos typically pay the Chinese government $1 million annually for a single panda (subject to negotiation). If they have cubs? That’s another $600,000. Taking care of them — supplying them with a habitat, staff and all that bamboo — costs five times what it costs for elephants, the next most expensive zoo animal.

This in a country where roughly 160 million people still live in extreme poverty. And all to protect about 1,600 dim herbivores that are debasing the word “bear,” which otherwise applies to noble beasts that manage to find plenty to eat in the wild.
Look, Darwinism isn’t for crybabies. And conservation requires making tough choices. Pandas had a pretty good run for 3 million years. All that money is better spent on preserving diverse habitats rather than on a single hopeless species.

The hate mail and vitriol was piling so fast to this heartless panda-hating journalist, Bloomberg must have decided to delete all responses.  Before the comments were blocked, here are a couple of the more benign insults being hurled at Lavin:

– Dear Sir, you are as arrogant as you are ignorant.

– This author is an idiot and it seems he’s a useless air sucker.

Being the thoughtful journalist he is, Lavin may have aroused a response that, although not intended, is an important one, and that is, the need for more attention to the constrained resources of the conservation world.   Worldwide, the cost of conservation is estimated at $76 Billion with a “B” to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitat.  It’s a costly and burdensome business.  Lavin’s article made me ponder how one might argue before a death panel for panda clemency.  An abbreviated form of my argument would go something like this.

Your Honor, we’re here to consider the fate of my client and his extended family, the giant panda.  Your Honor, my client is guilty as charged.  He may be cute and cuddly, but don’t let that fool you.  He eats way too much bamboo; he’s fat and doesn’t exercise nearly enough; he’s way too expensive to keep locked-up in a cage; he’s self-centered and takes food and handouts without showing an ounce of gratitude for the goodness of others; he’s a lousy lover and his sex life is pretty much non-existent, not to mention those useless conjugal visits provided at taxpayer expense; and his children will invariably wind up wards of the state, because this no-good father is unable to care for them.  Darwin was absolutely right, this animal is woefully inferior to all others and has absolutely no chance of surviving on its own in the wild.  Your honor, my client is a louse, a leach, a taker, and a terrible example to children who need to learn life skills to survive the cold harsh realities of this world. Your Honor, notwithstanding his cuteness, these are the cold hard facts we are dealing with.   

My client has had a hard life.  That’s gotta mean something to this court.  Locked away from his native habitat and surroundings because he’s unfit and unable to care for himself.  But I’d submit, your Honor, it’s been this way for a long time – his path to self-destruction started about 3 million years.  It was a slow path, but things changed, and his situation worsened considerably about 6,000 years ago, you know, when God made Adam and Eve and asked them to tend his Garden.  Well, Your Honor, Adam and Eve and their progeny haven’t done a very good job at tending that garden.  The panda may not be so good at survival and reproducing, but those humans, they breed like bunny rabbits.  We started out with only two of them and now they’re up to about 7 million in only 6,000 years.  That’s nothing short of a Darwinian domination.  

But your Honor, for all the failings of my client, which we have conceded, we must consider the species contemplating my client’s destiny.  Your Honor, sure, humans may be superior in all ways and the epitome of survival, but need we look much further for an undeserving species.  A species that epitomizes gluttony and greed with an insatiable appetite unable to be quenched with life’s limited provisions.  They eat far too much and consume without regard to what survival demands; they search for happiness in all the wrong places, clearing forests and knocking down mountains in search of more and more material wealth; they continue to expand into areas of the earth untouched with little care or regard for God’s creation and other creatures that inhabitat those areas.   Sure, humans are entitled to their space to survive, thrive and raise their own young – and all the gathering, harvesting and hunting that goes along with that.  But where is the moderation and the respect for those things which God created and found good.

Your Honor, my client’s life, and that of his tribe, was a whole lot easier before humans arrived.  But since that time, they’ve struggled.  Much of the panda’s natural habitat has been destroyed by humans for agriculture, logging, and fuel wood.  There’s only about 1,600 of my client’s tribe left in the wild – although that’s 600 more since the 1970s when the World Wildlife Fund and other humans learned and responded to the desperate plight of this little fella and his species.  A little over 300 live in captivity.

Your Honor, over the last forty years, there’s been a subtle shift that portends well for my client and his extended family.   Humans have started to think differently about the panda and the legacy they wish to leave for their children.  They have begun to awake to a greater realization of the lasting negative impacts of their actions on the earth’s landscape and other things that dwell therein; and they are responding with greater care and respect for the earth’s natural resources.  And that’s important.  My client, your Honor, doesn’t understand these things, because he’s – well – he’s an animal.  I don’t mean to be pejorative, but that’s just the way it is.  He’s doing the best he can to survive, but it’s tough.  Frankly, your Honor, he sucks at survival.  Sorry your honor for that slip and lack of decorum.  But, I get so frustrated with my client’s dismal failure as a species, his inability to comprehend this dire predicament, and his inescapable ineptness to save himself.  But, I’m grateful that a superior species is helping my client navigate the harsh realities of life and remain with us on this earth for as long as he can hold on.  Life is richer and more meaningful with his presence.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting we humans couldn’t live and survive without him.  Sure we could.  But, it would be a sad day just knowing that we gave up on such a beautiful creature and important cause.  Your Honor, the panda serves as reminder of our humanity, our strengths and weaknesses, our moral and spiritual obligation to tend the Garden, and the need to accomodate and protect other less able species.  My client will never be sufficiently fit to return to the wild, but his tribe, with the support of humans, is doing much better.  Darwin was right, it’s a dog eat dog world out there.  Your Honor, my client needs a helping hand, not a death sentence.  That’s all we’re asking for.  The conservation effort, yes, has been costly, but is working and needs a little more time, like another million years.  We respectfully ask you to spare the life of my client and his tribe.  Thank you, your Honor, we rest our case.