Is the Price of Protecting Pandas Too High?
By Madeleine Vance, guest blogger and student at Kent Place School
This summer, I had an incredible opportunity to travel through China including a stop to see the giant pandas in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Although the pandas didn’t move much, something about those black circles around their eyes left me in awe. They even seemed to smile back at us when we passed by.
On February 23rd, two giant pandas from Sichuan arrived in Belgium. Destined for Pairi Daiza, a zoo about 30 miles outside of Brussels, Xing Hui and Hao Hao received a celebrity welcome as they were unloaded at Brussels Airport. Even considered to be a symbol of luck, pandas are China’s national treasure. Now in their new home, these two members of an endangered species have been causing quite the “pand-a-monium.”
Elio Di Rupo, the Belgian Prime Minister, claims that the pandas’ arrival is a major event for Belgium. Because of the pandas, Pairi Daiza has seen visitors increase by 30 percent and expects to see 1.35 million this year. Belgium is China’s sixth largest trading partner in the European Union, and the Panda loans are necessary to seal their diplomatic and commercial ties.
Despite the economic boost, these pandas are pricey. Pairi Daiza has spent over $10 million to create a traditional Chinese habitat for Xing Hui and Hao Hao, and annual upkeep totals around $100,000. They also have to pay an annual fee of $1 million to China, on top of the $1 million dollar insurance per panda. Still though, investors claim that the zoo’s shares have increased from less than 25 euros to 55 euros in the past 6 months.
Many wildlife experts don’t think so. A British wildlife expert, Chris Packham, calls panda conservation “one of the grossest wastes of conservation money in the last half-century.” According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 1,600 pandas live in the world, and their numbers are decreasing. Female pandas can only conceive for two to three days each spring. And pandas’ diets require about 40 pounds of bamboo per day, which is also endangered in nature mainly due to habitat loss caused by humans. Citing the upkeep and the price, many wildlife experts consider panda conservation a waste.
On the contrary, Steven Price, World Wildlife Fund’s senior director of conservation science and practice begs to differ. He says that while giant pandas should not be the “single largest conservation effort…they deserve every single dollar they have got.” Many people donate to panda protection because they are more aesthetically pleasing and “cute” than, for example, an endangered insect or fish. Saving pandas, or any other single species, essentially means saving every other species that is interconnected in that habitat. Even though the goal of successfully reintroducing pandas to the wild is in the distant future, giving up on pandas, like any other endangered species, would be tragic.
An economist would say the tradeoffs are big, but I think Pandas are worth it.