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?
An interesting concept to help promote Panda conservation – but is it ‘overkill’ of the species? China Daily reports
Three contest winners to travel globe talking about endangered animals
The audience burst into hearty laughter when Frenchman Serge Pouille said he loved the giant panda in Chinese with a strong Sichuan accent after being dubbed a Pambassador, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Saturday.
Pouille had just been confirmed as one of three winners of the 2012 Global Pambassador program, a three-month long competition to find “panda ambassadors”, to spread the word of the plight of the giant panda across the globe. Pouille’s fellow Pambassadors are Chen Yinrong from China and Melissa Katz from the United States.
“All three of us shed tears after learning we had become the winners,” said Chen, 26, a journalist from a magazine in Shanghai.
Katz, Chen and Pouille will serve as Chengdu Pambassadors for one year in 2013, visiting all countries with pandas, including the US, Japan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Australia, to advocate for the protection and reproduction of the animals.
The Pambassador competition started on Sept 10, and nearly 1.2 million people from 30 countries and regions around the world took part.
The competition was organized by the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in partnership with WildAid, an NGO combating illegal wildlife trade, and the Yao Ming Foundation, run by the retired NBA basketball star Yao Ming, to raise awareness of giant panda conservation.
On Saturday morning, 16 winners from four subzones in Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific and the Chinese mainland participated in the final competition in Chengdu.
After a 10-minute speech on what they would do as Pambassadors, the contestants had a three-minute quiz in which they answered questions such as: “What are the habits of the giant panda in summer?” and “Who was the first person to introduce the giant panda to the West?”
“It took Pouille only 90 seconds to finish all 10 questions in the quiz,” said Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
Next, contestants were presented with four kinds of bamboo. They had to identify which two of the varieties were edible, and gather 40 kg of bamboo without a scale. The whole process could last no more than three minutes.
“Although Chen identified the bamboo quickly, the amount of bamboo she placed on the platform scale was only 5 kg,” said Wu Kongju, a competition judge from the research base.
But Chen distinguished herself by using an apple tied to a bamboo pole to lure a panda to stand up and walk, which is an exercise used to make the hind legs of a male panda strong.
“It would be good for a male panda in natural reproduction,” said Fei Lisong, deputy chief of the research base.
In this part of the competition, Chen got a score of eight out of 10.
All of the three Pambassadors are die-hard panda fans.
Pouille, 31, works for an environmental protection agency in France and has managed a French website about the giant panda since 2002.
The first animal toy for Katz, 24, a hockey coach, in her childhood was a panda. “And I have had pandas on the brain ever since,” she said.
She said the first thing she would do as a Pambassador was to appeal for people from different parts of the world to protect the giant panda, its habitats and other animal species.
- China Celebrates Birth of 8 Giant Panda Cubs (livescience.com)
- 341 giant pandas living in captivity: report (wantchinatimes.com)
- Giant Pandas at the Chengdu Research Base (mzzoomer.wordpress.com)
- Chengdu Pambassador Finals Launch with Naming of “Olympic Panda” (prnewswire.com)
- Chengdu Pambassador Finals Launch with Naming of “Olympic Panda” (sys-con.com)
- Oldest Panda Fossil Ever Discovered Found In Spain, May Be Where They Originated (planetsave.com)
- Panda fans compete for ‘Pambassador’ role (independent.co.uk)
- Video: Chinese Pandas playing on a slide (newstalk.ie)
Once Tian Tian had ovulated, which occurs only once a year, she had just 36 hours to get pregnant. The Independent reports
Making beautiful babies is clearly more of a problem for giant pandas than for rare ducks. Britain’s panda pair, Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo, ran out of mating time yesterday as their much-hyped but limited breeding season drew to an unsuccessful close.
At the same time it was announced that the world’s rarest duck, the Madagascar pochard, had produced 18 ducklings in captivity in its native land – an achievement hailed as an “incredible step forward” in saving the bird from extinction.
The two pandas had been brought together this week when it became clear that Tian Tian, the female, had ovulated – an event that happens only once a year – leaving her a mere 36 hours in which to get pregnant.
The animals met in a “tunnel of love” between their two enclosures, but despite showing much mutual interest, wrestling, grunting and climbing over each other, they did not manage to complete the full baby-panda manufacturing process.
“Each time the pair met we saw a huge amount of eagerness and attraction between Tian Tian and Yang Guang,” said Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo. “There was lots of vocalisation and encouragement from our female, and physical contact between the two. He mounted her several times, but full mating did not occur.”
He added: “We are hugely encouraged by how much the natural sparks flew between the two animals, as, like humans, not all male and female pandas are attracted to each other.
“Both of them were keen to mate, but their inexperience showed.”
By contrast, there was no stopping the tiny group of ducks in Madagascar, which until recently had been thought extinct.
In a conservation project involving Britain’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a worldwide charity, birds that hatched from eggs produced in captivity, after a tiny group was rediscovered, have now themselves bred, producing 18 ducklings that are being reared at a special conservation centre.
“The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction,” said Glyn Young, a Durrell biologist.
- Britain’s pandas ‘hit it off’ but fail to mate (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Britain’s pandas ‘hit it off’ but fail to mate (mnn.com)
- World’s rarest duck is bred in captivity (itv.com)
- Pandas#我想你 ＃我愛你 Hopes For Pitter-Patter Of Tiny Paws (leggotunglei808.wordpress.com)
- Scottish News: Edinburgh Zoo: We’ll screen panda cub’s birth on the internet.. if Tian Tian and Yang Guang get together (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- Giant pandas fail to mate (guardian.co.uk)
As the debate continues about whether we should focus on pandas as single species, not habitats, or just creatures where survival is likely – see my resource page – - China Daily reports on another exchange. Note that in the case of Edinburgh Zoos pandas, Scotland had to pick up the tab!
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should panda exchanges continue? Are they helpful in raising awareness for conservation or just a tourism magnet? Comment here below or at my twitter.
The Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) Saturday signed the deal with twoCanadian zoos in Chongqing, a municipality in Southwest China.
The panda pair, both around five years old, will stay in the Toronto and Calgary zoos for five yearseach after they arrive in Canada early next year, according to the agreement.
The male panda, named ”Er Shun,” is from a zoo in Chongqing and the female - “Ji Li“ lives in theChengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, home of over 100 pandas in the neighboringSichuan province.
Giant pandas are the world’s most endangered species. About 300 of the animals have been bredin captivity and 1,596 others live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper witnessed Saturday’s signing ceremony during his visit toChongqing.
“They will be the first pair of pandas to visit Canada since the 1980s,” said Harper.
In his second visit to China, Harper came to Beijing on Tuesday for a five-day trip as a guest ofPremier Wen Jiabao. The Canadian prime minister met and held talks with top Chinese leadersand witnessed the signing of several bilateral agreements regarding cooperation in trade,technology, education, forestry, energy and agriculture.
Harper also visited China’s southern economic hub of Guangdong province before heading toChongqing.
- Pandas Coming To Toronto, Calgary (huffingtonpost.ca)
- Chinese pandas heading to zoos in Toronto, Calgary (vancouversun.com)
- Pandas heading to zoos in Toronto, Calgary (canada.com)
- Pandas heading to zoos in Calgary, Toronto: Gallery (calgaryherald.com)
- Calgary Zoo, tourism officials hail news of Chinese panda loan – Calgary Herald (calgaryherald.com)
- Stephen Harper secures pandas for Toronto, Calgary during China mission (news.nationalpost.com)
- Harper to talk investment, pandas during Chinese visit (news.nationalpost.com)
- Pandas coming to Calgary, Toronto (cbc.ca)
- China blocks Canadian television footage of Harper (cbc.ca)
What began as a mission to save the panda has become a wider quest to save the world’s wildlife, and this year the World Wide Fund for Nature celebrates its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the Royal Mail will launch a special set of Amazon stamps tomorrow.
The stamps, printed on paper from trees grown in managed forests or recycled sources, feature the hyacinth macaw, the spider monkey, an Amazonian poison dart frog and the jaguar – symbols of a rainforest that conservationists are desperately trying to save.
In 1961, species such as pandas, polar bears, black rhinos and elephants were in danger of extinction. Determined to avert such disasters a group of conservationists including Sir Peter Scott and Sir Julian Huxley moved to act against an “orgy of thoughtless and needless destruction” of the world’s wildlife. The result was the birth of the WWF.
The stakes are higher today than they were in 1961, with the charity taking on climate change. It will call on Britons to switch off their lights at 8.30pm next Saturday to mark Earth Hour.
To celebrate WWF’s birthday, here are 50 things you may not know about the organisation.
1 It was founded in the Swiss town of Morges.
2 It was originally named the World Wildlife Fund – its name changed in 1986 to World Wide Fund for Nature, known as WWF.
3 A third of the world’s known species – more than 18,000 – are endangered.
4 WWF’s logo was inspired by Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s giant panda.
5 It has been redesigned four times.
6 It employs more than 5,400 people worldwide.
7 Actor Leonardo DiCaprio donated £650,000 to save the tiger.
8 In the 1960s there were an estimated 5,000 polar bears. Now there are 25,000.
9 Its latest scheme to protect the jaguar aims to save one billion trees in the Amazon rainforest.
10 Nearly $10bn has been spent in more than 150 countries since 1961.
11 The Duke of Edinburgh is the President Emeritus of WWF.
12 In 1969, together with the Spanish government, it established the Coto Doñana National Park, one of the world’s first wetland reserves.
13 Almost half (45 per cent) of WWF’s total income comes from the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
14 One million regular supporters in 1981 have grown to a total of more than five million worldwide.
15 Elephant “flying squads” in India have been set up to prevent wild elephants from raiding crops.
16 Helped to bring about a ban on commercial whaling in 1986.
17 In 1990, WWF helped bring about an international ban on ivory trade.
18 It was the first conservation organisation invited to China in 1979 to assist in giant panda conservation.
19 China has committed to protect three million hectares of panda forest – an area the size of Belgium – by 2015.
20 The greater bamboo lemur – believed extinct – was rediscovered by WWF in Madagascar in 1986.
21 WWF helped to reintroduce the golden lion tamarin to Brazil’s Atlantic forest.
22 The Royal Mint has produced a 50p coin for the 50th anniversary.
23 In 2002 WWF won a court battle against the World Wrestling Federation over the use of the initials WWF.
24 Sir David Attenborough was one of WWF UK’s first trustees.
25 It estimates nearly half of the world’s tropical forest has been lost over the past few decades.
26 Helped to create the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, Belize, home to one of the largest jaguar populations in Central America.
27 In 1992, a WWF team discovered a new species of large mammal – the saola, or vu quang ox – in Vietnam.
28 It helped to set up the Charles Darwin Foundation Research Station in the Galapagos Islands in 1962.
29 Giant pandas lost 50 per cent of their habitat between 1954 and 1989.
30 Of the 1,600 pandas left in the wild, only 980 live in protected reserves.
31 A fish with vampire fangs was among 145 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region in 2009.
32 There are 3,200 tigers in the wild. WWF aims to double this by 2022.
33 If overfishing continues, the world’s cod stocks will disappear in 15 years.
34 There are 1,300 projects run by WWF worldwide at any one time.
35 More than 350 new species were discovered in the eastern Himalayas between 1998 and 2008.
36 Numbers of Amur tigers in the wild have increased from an estimated 20-30 to 400.
37 About 120 new species have been discovered in Borneo’s rainforest since 2007, including a frog without lungs.
38 More than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in fishing nets annually.
39 WWF’s Earth Hour reached more than a billion people in 2010.
40 Fewer than 20 white rhinos existed in South Africa in 1895 – now there are more than 17,000.
41 Numbers of black rhinos rose from 2,500 in 1993 to more than 4,100 today.
42 Nearly 2,000 whales are still hunted each year despite the ban.
43 1,200 new species were discovered in the Amazon in the past decade.
44 Coral reefs contain about 25 per cent of all known marine fish species.
45 At current rates of destruction, 60 per cent of the reefs will be destroyed in the next 30 years.
46 Sturgeon are more critically endangered than any other species.
47 Stocks of all species fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.
48 WWF’s priorities for the next 50 years include tackling climate change and promoting sustainability.
49 The WWF estimates in the time it takes you to read this page another creature will have become extinct.
50 Sir Peter Scott, WWF co-founder: “We shan’t save all we should like to, but we shall save a great deal more than if we had never tried.”