Fund-raising Giant Pandas for rent and loan.

Giant panda cubs lined up in China breeding centre

Giant Pandas are “rented” out by China to zoos across the world on ten-year contracts costing a million dollars per year and all the proceeds are allegedly used to fund their conservation, the breeding centres and their release back into the wild.

They always come in pairs in the hope they will breed. The zoos pray they will breed as any cubs born will boost their visitors and make them tens of millions in revenue. Any cub born costs the zoos a further “baby tax” and are returned to China for breeding at 2 to 3 years old to support a healthy gene pool.

I don’t know whether it is me, but there seems something wrong with all this. China seems to do a very good job at breeding them at home so why ship them to zoos to breed? Although the Pandas are not harmed it can almost be likened to killing big game in Africa and using the proceeds from the hunting licences to protect other animals and their habitat.

My main concern is that the system seems to revolve around making money for the zoos and not any conservation purpose or perhaps I am being too cynical. In fact only 90 cubs  have apparently been born outside China in 35 years. There is no doubt though, that a zoo which can afford to keep a pair of pandas is on to a winner.

Pandas can assure a zoo’s financial future

Zoos want them and are willing to pay the astronomical prices for them because they can bolster their financial future by drawing in the crowds. In 2012, Toronto Zoo paid the going price of $1 million per annum for a pair and they produced two cubs which resulted in visitor numbers shooting up and the bucks rolling in.

In 2017, the zoo allowed their move to Calgary Zoo which spent $30 million on facilities to house them and cope with the expected increase in visitors, but will make tens of millions more on the investment. At least four zoos in the USA have Pandas and pay the yearly fee for the “privilege of housing” them.

Visitor numbers shoot up.

Edinburgh zoo rented a pair in 2011 with the 10 year contract costing £600,000 a year and they must be returned at the end of  this agreement. Not that the zoo is too worried as visitor numbers shot up by 4 million in the first two years at £16 plus a head.

But the crowds have a habit of losing interest if a cub is not born to reinvigorate the attraction and so zoo owners pray that they will mate. Luckily a cub was born in 2017 to much excitement and media coverage and probably to the relief of the zoo’s accountants.

Captive numbers have increased, but for what?

The number of wild and captive Pandas has increased to over 2,000 and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have downgraded their endangered species label to “vulnerable”, but this does not mean that they are plentiful in the wild or will ever be, as there is very little room in suitable habitats for their release.

China has bred and reared over 400 giant pandas and love to show off all the cute babies to world acclaim, but allegedly only 10 have ever been released into the wild since 1983 and only two of these have survived which appears to make a total nonsense of breeding them  for release.

Few are being released into the wild successfully

Some cynics have suggested that the Giant Panda is used as a “strategic asset for geopolitical reasons” because of the many trade agreements coinciding with their arrival in a country. The Pandas at Edinburgh coincided with a £2.6 billion worth of trade contracts for Britain. Zoos in France, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand also received Pandas following trade agreements.

So what we have is dozens of Pandas being shipped around the world as fund-raisers for zoos and their own conservation. Is this a bad thing or is this the future for conserving species and a policy based on commercialism that we have to increasingly accept.

With so few apparently being released into the wild successfully and their habitat decreasing due to human encroachment, they are probably destined to continue to exist only as zoo exhibits making huge revenue for zoos and China. Lets hope not.

The lure of ‘get up close’ animal attractions

What is Zoonasia?

Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.