Giant Pandas for rent. No way to treat a vulnerable species.

China has been renting out Giant Pandas for decades at astronomical fees. The sorry state of Ya Ya and Le Le are the result.

In December 2022, Memphis Zoo returned two sorry looking aged Giant Pandas named Ya Ya and Le Le back to their homeland to great fanfare and publicity. According to the zoo Ya Ya and Le Le helped “pioneer research and conservation projects” and drew visitors to Memphis to “get a small taste of the exquisite culture of the People’s Republic of China.”

But according to several animal advocacy groups the zoo had not been providing them with adequate food or enough outdoor freedom and cited instances of them pacing in circles. These groups had been criticising the zoo for months and have claimed victory now that they are being returned to China. But it would appear their return may have been more to do with their contract expiring. And what are they returning to?

Giant Pandas Ya Ya and Le Le
The poor old pandas being airlifted home

What future for Ya Ya and Le Le

At 24 years old and 22 years old respectively, having already exceeded the usual life expectancy by a considerable amount, Ya Ya and Le Le may not have much of a future. Not to mention the stress of being uprooted and flown round the world.

Few people realise that Giant Pandas are “rented” out by China. After the Second World war China was in the habit of “gifting” Giant pandas to other countries as part of trade agreements and diplomacy and zoos would clamour to house them. But in 1984 China changed this policy and began leasing them for high monthly fees. This changed again in 1991 to ten year leases costing up to US$1 million dollars per year with any cubs born having to be returned to China.

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.

Giant Pandas can assure a zoo’s financial future

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

Edinburgh zoo rented a pair in 2011 named Yang Guang and Tian Tian with a contract costing £600,000 a year and they must be returned at the end of  this agreement. Not that the zoo was too worried about the investment as visitor numbers shot up by 4 million in the first two years at £16 plus a head. This contract was extended by two years because of Covid and they are due to go back in 2o23.

The crowds tend to have a habit of losing interest if a cub is not born to reinvigorate the attraction, but luckily a cub was born in 2017 to much excitement and media coverage and probably to the relief of the zoo’s accountants.

Giant panda cubs lined up in China breeding centre
Bred for what?

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 (and of course the zoos they have been rented to) 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.

The bottom line seems to be that Giant Pandas have been reduced to tradeable merchandise.

Geronimo the alpaca deserved a more dignified end.

Geronimo the alpaca deserved a more dignified end. Everyone present on the day of his euthanasia failed to put his best interests before their own emotions and frustrations.

The whole tragic and acrimonious tale of the euthanasia of Geronimo the alleged TB suffering alpaca lasted four years. It involved court cases and appeals, a 140,000 petition, a demonstration to Downing Street and appeals direct to Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister. Campaigners camped outside the farm reminiscent of the days of the nuclear protests and the story was covered worldwide.

Unfortunately, it ended in distasteful and unacceptable scenes when the poor animal had to be forcibly removed from his farm. Unpalatable as it may have been, Geronimo’s fate was always going to be irrevocable and it should have been everybody’s priority to make his last moments as calm and peaceful as possible. But this did not happen

A media and campaigner scrum.

There was so much wrong on both sides of the fence during his final hours and unforgivably it turned into a scrum which caused considerable stress, anxiety and upset to poor Geronimo. Noisy supporters and demonstrators vented their frustration and emotions and jostled with the media photographers. There were scenes of paparazzi type photographers chasing after the trailer, jumping up to get their last photos as is often seen with prison vans outside courthouses.

This melee unnecessarily forced a Police cordon to be present to protect the government vets trying to lead Geronimo away. Not surprisingly Geronimo reacted to the close proximity of all these uniformed officers and the commotion surrounding him. Accusations by supporters of the government vets mishandling and causing Geronimo distress appear slightly hypocritical and shouts of “call yourself vets” were uncalled for and unhelpful. They were accused of being murderers, executioners, torturers and slaughterers. I am sure the vets and Geronimo would have preferred a more civilised exit.

Geronimo being led away by government veterinarians for euthanasia
Geronimo could have done without the melee surrounding his departure.

Geronimo could have been given a more peaceful and respectful end to his life.

It could have been such a different story. Geronimo could have been given the opportunity for a quiet and humane euthanasia in his stable surrounded by people he knew to calm him during his final moments as we would do with our precious pet dog or cat. Or the owner could have done more to keep the circus away and allowed the vet to calmly lead Geronimo to the trailer or even to have done it herself although this would of course have been upsetting.

Well-meaning supporters allowed their emotions to get the better of them.

The well-meaning people present when he was removed from the farm did the poor animal no favours. They allowed their emotions to get the better of them and they lost sight of the wellbeing of the animal they were supposedly so concerned about. They should have put Geronimo’s best interests first by being more respectful.

The whole episode was tragic and although I applaud the concerted efforts of his supporters to save his life, their actions in his final hours just made his death more distressing and pitiful. If Geronimo had been my pet I would have also have fought to save him, but I would have hated to see the life of an animal of mine end in such circumstances.

Geronimo imported from New Zealand for stud.

Although all the coverage portrayed Geronimo as a beloved pet, he was also an expensive stud animal imported from New Zealand to improve the gene line on the alpaca breeding farm which had apparently operated for 15 years. There are hundreds of thousands of them in New Zealand and Australia bred to slaughter for meat.

He was also one of 45,000 alpacas and other camelids in the U.K. involved in the burgeoning breeding and farming of them for their fleece and their meat. As such they are treated as livestock and subject to TB checks. Unfortunately he was was found to be positive in two blood tests although this has always been contested.

Alpacas are killed daily in the U.K.

In 2020, 205 alpacas and other camelids were culled due to TB and over 28,000 cattle and dairy cows along with countless badgers because of the threat of this contagious disease. Their fate goes mainly unnoticed.

As does the fact that in the UK more alpacas are slaughtered each year for their meat, and because they are either unsuitable for breeding or their fleeces are degrading. There are also large numbers of unwanted and abandoned alpacas each year which has resulted in Alpaca rescues having to be set up.

Realistically we should be attempting to stop the keeping of alpacas, llamas and camels in the U.K. so that this kind of incident need not arise.

He was euthanised on Tuesday 31 August 2021.

RIP Geronimo another victim of our passion for exotic meats and clothing.

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