There is a growing chatter in the scientific community that we spend too much time, money and energy into saving the giant panda from extinction. The argument is the efforts to save the species are futile or better directed elsewhere or ignoring tough conservation choices that we have to make.
Today, I’m going to argue on the panda’s behalf.
First of all, there are several stereotypes of the panda and its evolutionary chances that play into this debate. While yes, it is a carnivore who has changed its diet to almost solely bamboo which is a safer but inefficient diet, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should doom it to evolutionary failure.
And while yes, breeding pandas in captivity is taking up a lot of resources and not producing a lot of results, this is only in captivity. The wild pandas, in their natural but shrinking environment, are much better at reproducing than we generally think.
In his BBC article, “The truth about giant pandas,” Henry Nicholls said, “A long-term study of radio-collared pandas in the Qingling Mountains in Shaanxi Province revealed that females reliably give birth every other year and 60 percent of cubs survive to see in their first birthday.”
Second, pandas simply inspire more conservation effort in general. The Rock Center article from 2013, “Are giant pandas worth saving?” quoted Sarah Bexell, an employee at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
“I think pandas are symbolic,” Bexell said. “We all love them. We all want to share the earth with them. And if we truly cannot save space for giant pandas, what does that say about us as a species? And how could we ever have hope for any of the others if we can’t save the one that we profess to love the most?”
And thirdly, the efforts poured into the panda habitat has benefited other species as well. In the Toronto Star article titled “Why do we bother saving the pandas?” the pandas’ protective ecological umbrella is brought up. According to the article, “Pandas have been the flagship species for conservation, and efforts made with the bears have helped pave the way to discussions with the Chinese government about other species and the ecosystem.”
If the panda is bringing in money toward conservation, not only benefiting itself but many other species in its ecosystem, who are we to turn up our nose to that?
So, some of the negative evolutionary stereotypes of the panda either do not hold up, or do not justify in any way lessening our efforts toward the animal’s revival. Besides, conservation is such an important worldwide effort that we should let it use its symbolic animals like the panda for good. Even though it seems like they take up a disproportionate amount of our attention, ultimately they’re bringing people to the fight.
Save the giant panda.
Tyler Gehman is a junior in psychology.