It is not hard to get all protective and infantile when you observe dimly your first giant panda through a glass partition. The Observer reports
“Look, his wee pond is all iced over. Won’t it hurt his wee paws when he goes for a drink?” I ask the keeper at Edinburgh Zoo. “No, they prefer cold temperatures and they enjoy smashing the ice with their paws,” she replies.
I grew up in an era when Johnny Morris was king of animal television and so I have a habit of personalising the behaviour of animals, as Johnny used to do, when I watch wildlife programmes. Often I ascribe Glaswegian vernacular to them. Thus, lions and tigers are always “big” and they say things to each other like: “Ahm starvin’, big man, let’s go and jump a few of those antelopes for wur lunch.”
At the panda enclosure last week I was at it again. Yang Guang, the male of the pair currently engaging the gawping hordes, was sitting underneath his tree chomping on bamboo shoots. Unlike other wild beasts, he is happy to hold eye contact. I fancy he is challenging us. “Have you got a problem, pal?” You can also see why people are enchanted by them. The big black patches on their face make them childlike. And when Tian Tian (Sweetie) is seated and eating, she seems very human in her movements.
Yes, Edinburgh’s two giant pandas have swung to the rescue of headline writers again. Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s keepers have begun to observe behaviour that suggests that they may be about to mate.
Tian Tian has been calling out to Yang Guang (Sunshine) in the compound next door. Sunshine has been doing handstands and marking his territory in all sorts of ways. “Ah’m up for the Cup,” he’d be telling his pals. It’s the perfect feelgood story for the spring.
The female is in season for a mere two days and the show may be all over inside a minute. The keepers will expect to know when the time is right by a series of signals that will include Tian Tian’s temperature readings. The male is prone to be more aggressive at this stage and the keepers are acutely aware that Yang Guang can be inadvertently harmed while mating.
Scotland has been treated to mini treatises on how male giant pandas set about “marking their territory”. On the Scotsman’s front page, underneath a picture of Yang Guang’s trapeze routine, the caption read: “Tian Tian has started calling out to Yang Guang, who has been peering into her cage.” Surely there’s a typo in there?
Staff members at the zoo are cautiously optimistic that mating could take place as early as next week. Under the terms of the agreement with the Beijing government which underpins the 10-year panda project, though, any baby panda must be sent to China after two years. After that it will participate in China’s breeding programme in the wild and never see Scotland again. In effect, Scotland has rented the pandas for this period, which started on their arrival 14 months ago. The annual fee is around £700,000 plus food and sundries. Home for each of the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo is an enclosure the size of a small kitchen showroom. It’s a split-level number with a cave, a pond, and some shrubbery on a grass and rock terrain. Quite how the pandas will feel after 10 years of prowling this same patch is open to suggestion. The zoo insists it has a robust “enrichment” programme in which they are trained to do exercises and are made to “hunt” for food, which, although they are carnivores, consists almost solely of bamboo.
It’s clear that all those engaged in the welfare of the pandas work hard to ensure their wellbeing. But that is if you can believe any beast can be comfortable pacing up and down the same artificial strip of piece of turf for 10 years.
The zoo is sensitive about any criticism of the beasts’ mental welfare. “While we cannot replace their habitat in the wild, we can ensure the animals in our collections have everything they need to lead a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. It’s very easy to forward our own emotions onto animals and become anthropomorphic in our views towards them. This is unfair to the animals as they do not think that way.”
How do they know? Is there not a case for simply letting these extraordinary-looking creatures take their chances with nature’s indiscriminate pruning fork? No species has a sacrosanct right to everlasting life and surely it would be better to die out while living free rather than appear in this endless circus. Iain Valentine, director of conservation and research at the zoo, has heard it all before. “Pandas have existed on earth for between four million and eight million years,” he said. “Their problems only started when we arrived and began to make our presence felt. We have a moral duty to conserve them and to educate people about their habitat, health and the threats they face.”
John Robins, of Animal Concern, is a persistent critic of the panda project which he describes as a “tawdry, geo-political carve-up”. Whatever else the agreement may be about the pandas’ mental and physical welfare is not the primary objective, he says. “China has turned its panda reserves into vulgar theme parks where people stage marriage ceremonies and the rich buy holiday homes. I’d much rather see the £1m or so spent in lobbying the Chinese government to develop proper national parks where the pandas can roam free. We shouldn’t be breeding them for this questionable purpose.”
In the viewing room another group of 50 or so visitors are willing Tian Tian to do something that will make their entrance fee worthwhile. The children are outnumbered by the adults, one of whom thinks it’s a good idea to use flash photography as he aims his camera at the beast. How long though, will this national novelty last; of pressing your nose up against a window and watching a largely inert animal eat and sleep again and again and again?
If a new baby panda appears later this year in Edinburgh, it will be a great time for Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, to bury bad news. For this will be a historically unique event of seismic proportions: the world’s first Scottish panda. But will it come out for an independent Scotland? And can we please call it something normal like Colin or Tracey, rather than Twinkle or anything else too cutesy?
I return from Christmas holidays, to a new storm, so-called #Pandagate , but is it a ‘storm in a tea-cup’ ? In my opinion, unless the rules specify who can or cannot be nominated for Woman of the Year, what is so wrong with putting promoting a panda mother, who is emblematic of species working for its very survival….? I have been to
From CHINA DAILY – It was intended as a light-hearted addition to an otherwise serious list of women who made the headlines in 2011. But the BBC’s inclusion of a panda in its “faces of the year” has kicked up a storm.
In a media row dubbed Pandagate by users of Twitter, the broadcaster has included Tian Tian (Sweetie), one of two pandas who arrived at a Scottish zoo earlier this month, as its female face for December in an online feature.
The hairy giant is named alongside women such as US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head during a meeting with voters, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Kate Middleton’s sister Pippa.
Opposition Labour lawmaker Stella Creasy was among those who criticized the BBC’s decision, saying that despite its light-hearted tone, the list caused concern because it appeared to be part of a trend.
Last month, the BBC came under fire for failing to include any women in the 10-strong shortlist for its prestigious Sports Personality of the Year award.
“These lists aren’t meant to be serious but coming so soon after the lack of women from their Sports Personality of the Year award it does seem as if the BBC hasn’t noticed the wide and varied contribution women make to public life,” Creasy said in a statement.
Tian Tian the panda enjoys the unexpected honor of being named one of the “faces of the year” by the BBC. [Photo/Agencies]
“Whilst we all love a good panda story, in a year when Christine Lagarde became head of the IMF, or Helle Thorning-Schmidt became prime minister of Denmark or even the sad death of Amy Winehouse, it’s frustrating the BBC couldn’t think of 12 human female faces who have made the news this year.”
The BBC said this was not the first time an animal had made the list. “Including Sweetie as one of the annual headline makers was a light-hearted addition to the list,” a spokeswoman said.
In 2009, Benson the Carp was August’s entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig, a popular cartoon character, was on the female list for April.
“They eat well, sleep well, enjoy bamboo every day and enjoy seeing visitors,” Roberts said.
About 2,000 visitors come to Edinburgh Zoo to watch the pair every day, but the daylight is quite short at the moment, Roberts added.
When it comes to the news that BBC selected Tian Tian as one of its women “faces of the year 2011″, Roberts said it’s very wonderful.
Eve Miller poses for photographers as she watches Tian Tian, a female giant panda, at Edinburgh Zoo in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Dec 16, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
The selection, on the BBC’s online magazine, has provoked controversy. Unlike the women’s page, all individuals of the men’s page were people. Yang Guang, the male panda brought to Edinburgh with Tian Tian, was not included. Some people also said Tian Tian may be cute, but she is not so influential.
“Different people have different opinions,” Roberts said, adding that some people take the selection very seriously and they think it’s not good, while others don’t like hard news stories.
Tang Chunxiang, vice-director of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda and one of the Chinese experts staying at the zoo, said the BBC’s selection of Tian Tian is good.
“British people love pandas,” Tang said.
- PandaGate: BBC names a panda one of its 12 most interesting women of the year (mnn.com)
- BBC chooses Tian Tian熊猫甜甜 as December woman 2011 (leggotunglei808.wordpress.com)
- BBC panda row after Tian Tian named among year’s top women (guardian.co.uk)
- Panda Express lands in Edinburgh (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- Pandagate! Anger as BBC chooses Tian Tian as December woman 2011 (guardian.co.uk)
- Tian Tian the Panda: BBC’s 2011 Female Face of the Year? (blippitt.com)
- Faces of the Year (bbc.co.uk)
- Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo: Tian Tian and Yang Guang celebrate their first Christmas in the UK (dailymail.co.uk)
- BBC panda row after Tian Tian named among year’s top women (bfreenews.com)
- Edinburgh Zoo pandas Tian Tian and Yuan Guang fall in love (mirror.co.uk)
The Alpine fault that runs along the mountainous spine of South Island marks the boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates. It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from a previously unknown fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault.
It first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quake shook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Seismologists believe the latest quake resulted from …
Today’s fatal earthquake near Christchurch in New Zealand confirms that a country already riddled with major fault lines has gained another one, say seismologists.
“Christchurch has never been identified as a major earthquake zone, because no one knew this fault ran beneath,” says Roger Musson, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.
New Zealand experiences thousands of earthquakes each year, because it lies on the boundary between the Pacific and the Australian tectonic plates. To the north-east, the Pacific plate is subducting beneath New Zealand’s North Island, and to the south-west, the Australian plate is subducting beneath the South Island. Between these two subduction zones lies theAlpine fault, running along the mountainous spine of the South Island.
It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from activity on a fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault that remained unknown until last year, says Musson.
The new fault first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quakeshook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Musson says the latest quake probably resulted from an eastward continuation of activity on the same fault. “It has probably not moved for tens of thousands of years, so lots of strain built up,” says Musson.
Christchurch was understandably unprepared for activity on a fault that is only now making its presence known. But two factors made today’s damage worse. The quake was just 5 kilometres down, limiting the amount of energy it dissipated before reaching Christchurch from its epicentre just 10 kilometres away. Also, the rock on either side of the fault accelerated almost three times as fast as in a typical quake, says Musson, so the shaking was extra violent – and significantly greater than the levels Christchurch’s structures have been designed to withstand