Pandas 'sparked diplomatic fears'

The BBC has reported (click the title above to read the article) that papers from the 1974 and 1975 files of PM Harold Wilson, two Pandas stirred fears of a falling out between Britain and China.

China gave two Pandas, Ching-Ching and Chia-Chia, to the previous PM, Edward Heath, in a gesture of friendship. They have done this with so many countries that it has been dubbed "Panda diplomacy". But later, the London Zoo told the government that the cost of importing bamboo shoots was worrisome for the nearly bankrupt zoo (Pandas eat 45 kg or 100 pounds a day), and that the Pandas also needed a shelter, which would cost 70,000 Pounds (about 68,000 of today's US dollars). Another, ahem, weighty matter, was that China was receive two white rhinos in return for the Pandas. Another big expense. It fell on the Wilson government to deal with the situation.

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The Wilson government feared that if it did not help the zoo financially it would be seen as an affront by China and hurt relations. They were also concerned about losing face at home. As one Foreign Office memo stated, "Given the notorious sentiment of the British public about animals, this could make the government look unnecessarily unsympathetic."

Governments big and small in this world can find any amount of money (or debt) to buy ships and nukes and fighter planes and such, and even to wage wars. But take care of a couple of peaceful, adorable Pandas in the hope of smoothing relations and preventing the need for those weapons and maybe save a species in the bargain? No.

In the end the British government did not give any money to the zoo. The Pandas got along as best they could, and apparently there were no international repercussions from the incident, which is all the humans in either country's government really cared about.

The BBC News report only focuses on the fallout for the humans and their governments. But what of the Pandas?

Ching-Ching, the female, needed much medical attention in London and died of a bacterial infection in 1980. Chia-Chia went to Mexico in 1988 (via Cincinnati) for mating. He died in Mexico City in 1991.

The London Zoo was without any Pandas for some time, and the Pandas had been their star attractions (of course!). The zoo hoped that Koalas would replace the Pandas in that role. Please! Koalas are cute, but half the time you can't even see them up in the trees, and they are nocturnal animals and so sleep all day besides.

I have seen Ling-Ling at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. Ling-Ling has been flown to Mexico three times, and female Pandas brought to him as well. It is so pathetic to see such a magnificent animal (if may I say so myself) kept in a concrete, tile, and glass enclosure with just a few stalks of bamboo as a cruel reminder of what his habitat should be.

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Some people argue that having these animals in zoos may help their chances of survival through breeding and helps to educate people about their plight. Maybe. But think of all the millions of dollars that have been spent on sending these animals to zoos around the world, flying them from place to place - often repeatedly - in attempts to get them to mate, maintaining walls around them, feeding them, and trying to keep them healthy. I can't help wondering that if all that money had instead been spent on anti-poaching efforts and protection of their forest habitats, might not the Giant Pandas be much better off than they are today?

Instead, their fate is to be used as the main draw for zoos and as mere pawns on the chessboard of international politics.


FH2O said...

global politics at its ugliest.
the world makes no sense at all sometimes

The Moody Minstrel said...

Perhaps that's why, in the Kashima dialect, the expression "chiku dappe" ("It's bamboo, ain't it?") means the same as "bulls**t" in English.

YD said...

Politicians make use of everything available to achieve their objectives. In the past, women are used as "gifts" in international diplomatic relations. Many monarchs and heads of state give birds, dogs or even racehorses to visiting dignitaries. For this case, it is to the extent of using 'panda diplomacy' as pawns for their moves.

Another similar case is China offering to send 2 giant pandas to Taiwan to mark a ground-breaking visit to Beijing by Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan.

Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck! that is what i feel about exploiting the rights of life beings and nature for political gains.

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Well, it's the same everwhere. Some country, or someone even, could have give WWF some 50 million to safe world's last virgin forest in Congo-Gabon basin from logging.

How how money used in USA-Iraq war again? I thought Washington government are still in dept because of the war??

Panda, even in the wild habitat, are dying fast due to lost of habitat. They must adjust to the life cycles of bamboo, where habitat fragmentation and population isolation are equally dangerous. Even if panda may live longer in captivity, but they have greater breeding success in the wild. Zoo (with bed?), is only good for human, really.

Research shows that it takes about three days for adults to adapt completely to a new time zone. Now, you want to move Panda in planes.

If only they are Pandabonium...


Or human women gifts...

Opss opss...

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, this is such a sad state of affairs. The other day I saw a Chinese documentary on panda breeding in a research center in China.

The scientists went through much difficulty getting them to mate in spite of the undivided attention showered. One scientist was practically the mother and father of the pandas - he lived there at the center and only visited his own home occasionally.

How can the pandas expect to do well outside of their own habitat
(overseas at that) if even the home-experts are at wits' end.

Bottomline is, it is man's failing to understand the problem at source or more correctly, man's
failing for not putting panda first before man's selfish agenda in this case. Will man ever learn?

Panadabonium, thank you for sharing.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

@low@ - human women gifts? I'd better not touch that line even with a long bamboo pole! ;^) I hope yd doesn't see that.

happpysurfer - we humans think we're so darned smart. Never learn from all the civizations down through history that ruined their own habitat or used up resources and disappeared. Thank you.

Robin said...

yes, Strange Human, Poor Panda.

May 2006, the year of the Fire Dog, brings you joy, happiness, love, good luck and lots of money!

Happy Holidays!

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Robin. The same for you. Let's make it a great year.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Whatever happened to the good old days when China would only export tea and would only accept silver in return?

Oh, wait...that led to the Opium War...which in turn gave us both Shanghai harbor and Hong Kong.

History and geopolitics make strange bedfellows with or without human female gifts.

That last comment should have been removed by the author.

YD said...