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.

Born Free ditches Martin Clunes – an opportunity missed.

Can we really trust this man to humanely look after his elephants?

Has the Born Free Foundation missed an opportunity?

The Born Free foundation has severed its ties with actor Martin Clunes following his ill advised decision to ride on an elephant and worse still to pull on its ear in the process. He has been denounced across social media and unfortunately has lost all his kudos as an ambassador for animals.

To be fair, Martin Clunes has shown beyond doubt in many of his programmes that he is a genuine animal lover, so should we judge him so savagely. It was a very bad error of judgement by him and he is probably mortified. He allegedly voiced his concerns to the production crew about hurting the elephant by pulling at its ear and climbing up on it.

TV producers and directors are the ones at fault.

The TV production company and its producers, advisers and director are mostly at fault for their crass decision to include such a shot in the show in the first place , but have escaped most, if not all, of the censure. Rather than use the situation to highlight the plight of these elephants they chose the audience pleaser route of pressurising Mr Clunes to make an exhibition of himself with little thought to the outrage it would cause. The whole incident highlights the media approach to and misunderstanding of animal welfare and rights issues, and reinforces their ethos that animals are purely there to be utilised for entertainment and as audience pullers particularly when you can have a gullible celebrity presenter paid to front it and perform as they are told.

Unfortunately, Mr Clunes has now added himself to the list of presenters who perpetuate this creed that is acceptable to misuse animals for entertainment purposes irrespective of their rights and dignity.

Getting up close and personal is too irresistible for some animal lovers.

elephant, cruelty to elephants, chained elephant,
Is this any way to treat such a intelligent and dignified animal.

Being an animal lover is a double edged sword and many find it difficult to draw the line between being lovers and abusers.  Animal loving instincts can lead us all astray at some stage as for most people the whole point of “loving” is  to surround themselves with animals and take every opportunity to interact with them preferably at close quarters.

The lure of getting up close and personal can prove too irresistible and when presented with perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity of riding an elephant, swimming with a dolphin, or having a selfie with a bird of prey,  monkey or snake many find it difficult to ignore. We kid ourselves that just the odd encounter does not really matter, little realising that these animals are put through this manhandling and stress continually.  There is an extreme conflict of interest involved in these situations and unfortunately many cannot resist.

It could be argued that the Born Free Foundation has missed a trick with this heaven sent opportunity to use this highly publicised incident to their advantage by initiating an ad campaign with Martin Clunes to highlight that everyone is vulnerable and capable of making such a bad decision, but once they have made the error they might think twice in the future.

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More reading on the subject:

Tourists abroad risking life and limb.

The lure of close up animal attractions.