Currently, we are in the largest extinction event in human history. Many species are under threat such as the pandas. While it is understandable that human activity on the environment has caused this crisis, funding that is consumed to extend this species is unjustified; perhaps, our bias towards pandas blind us to assessing their true value and our limited financial resources.
We all know stereotypes can often restrict our vision to the broader picture. We have our faith in independence and individuality, our underlying support of the capitalist economy, and even, our ideas of the inherent necessity of freedom of speech and actions.
So, what are our stereotypes about pandas?
Imagine a panda. The black-and-white, roly-poly cuddly creature, grabbing a highly fibrous bamboo stick, tightly with five small fingers. All the movement one takes seems lovely, adorable, and beloved.
Yet, on closer examination, certain undeniable facts emerge. 183,000 years ago, panda evolution diverged from the bear species to become a herbivorous version. A bamboo based diet is hardly the most nutritious one.
This diet has consequences.
First, a typical panda cub enters the world at 1/900th of the birth mother’s weight. This leads to incredibly low survival rates among infants.
Second, pandas are not social creatures. Females only come to mate with males at very particular times of year where males are expected to compete for female attention, conditions which cannot reproduced in artificial environments.
These conditions create a highly expensive endeavor in trying to preserve the species through processes like artificial insemination.
In a different point of view, at the World Wild Fund for Nature, they strongly assert that pandas yield beneficial effects on the environment by disseminating seeds and helping vegetation to grow effectively.
However, in the 7.7 billion population of Earth, human pressure will remove the pandas’ habitats so that benefit won’t exist; rather the pandas’ survival will require even more financing in artificial systems like zoos that will most likely be unsustainable..
Our bias arises from an unclear opinion of what “saving the environment” really entails. We should know that helping species in our environment should not be motivated to a general idea of saving nature, but instead, to the idea of saving humanity. Why? Financial considerations will always constrain what we can save.
In all of human history, we have always used nature to benefit us. We have used domesticated animals, cultivation, and more natural resources to implement our life in convenience. If we approach the idea of saving nature, we must understand that doesn’t mean all of nature. We must understand preservation of species is really mandated by what serves humanity and by what is economically feasible. So, we have to make hard choices on what is worth saving based on values.
It is known that some species are more critical than others. Stated by Eurekalert organization, the total cost of panda conservation in 2010 was 255 million dollars for pandas alone. What if we used that money for conserving coral reefs? They support 25 percent of marine life with a variety of organisms and species, minimize climate change as natural breakwaters, and also attract tourism to alleviate human . Compared to pandas, aren’t coral reef benefits greater in serving humanity’s needs?
The extinction of pandas will not become an environmental catastrophe. Nobody wants to see pandas die. But now is the time when we need to take practical actions for our future. While pandas are viewed as a global conservation icon, funding for pandas stem from our excessive emotional bias. We need to make more prudent choices about which species we can and cannot save, prioritizing their practical value and financial considerations. After all, human survival is the most important factor.
Benedictus, Leo. “Should Pandas Be Left to Face Extinction?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Sept. 2009, www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/sep/23/panda-extinction-chris-packham.
“Benefits of Coral Reefs.” Benefits of Coral Reefs | International Coral Reef Initiative, www.icriforum.org/about-coral-reefs/benefits-coral-reefs.
EurekAlert. “Research Shows Benefit of Giant Panda Conservation Far Exceeds Cost.” EurekAlert!,
28 June 2018, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-06/caos-rsb062818.php.
Giant panda eating bamboo at Chengdu Panda Reserve, Sichuan Province, China, Asia. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/151_2503645/1/151_2503645/cite. Accessed 31 Mar 2019.
“Scientists Describe 229 New Species in 2018.” EarthSky, 12 Dec. 2018, earthsky.org/earth/new-species-2018.
“Why Should We Save the Giant Panda?” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/giant_panda/panda/why_we_save_the_giant_panda/.