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‘Rent a panda deal’ an unwise move

June 14, 2012

FMT LETTER: From S M Mohd Idris, via e-mail

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) strongly objects to the government’s decision  to bring in the giant pandas into Malaysia on a 10-year loan. News of  loan came as a shock, as in 2009 and subsequently in 2011  SAM had opposed the move to bring in the pandas.

SAM is highly critical of the move which is seen as more of a primarily commercial deal and it is definitely not  a credible way to go about saving the giant panda.

The use of the word  “con” in  conservation research is merely  to hoodwink the public into believing that the salvation of pandas lies in warehousing these sensitive animals.

A panda has a poor reproductive performance in captivity. As the agent of diplomacy, giant pandas are forced to adapt to various climate, food and natural environment while they could have enjoyed their normal life in Sichuan province, China

It would be interesting to know how many pandas sent overseas as gifts and on loans have  successfully bred, how many off springs survived and the number that have died of natural causes.

Over time,  the panda presence  will have  less to do with conservation or education, and much more to do with bringing in  more tourist dollars.

If  Malaysia is strongly committed towards China’s effort in increasing the endangered giant panda then it should  be asking the public to donate to schemes that protect pandas in their native habitats, not bring them here.

The public may not be aware that the ‘rent a panda deal’ and short term loans of giant pandas to Malaysia usually entails large investments for both governments where Chinese government may receive up to a  million dollars per panda.

Besides panda cubs born during the period of a lease  are believed to belong to China.

Then again, a huge question mark arises  over the  Natural Resources and Environment Ministry’s  ability to meet acceptable standards  for the pandas’ health  and welfare following years of “problems” in all zoos in Malaysia.

The question that begs to be answered  is whether NRE has world-class expertise including our keepers and our vets to oversee the pandas’ welfare. When it comes to pandas, it is  not about the size of space but rather the quality of climbing structures and water features.

The introduction of pandas into Malaysia is not only a backward step in terms of conservation and ethics but the cost that comes with them means that the Ministry  is putting extra pressure on their finances when they should be focusing on ensuring existing zoos meet the most basic standards for the captive animals already here.

There is much wastage of  taxpayers’ money to spend RM20 million for the upkeep of the pandas when money should be put to better use  on equipment, human resources and the establishment of  anti poaching unit in all the states protected areas to combat poaching.

SAM  concludes that the desire to foster good international relations jeopardises the pandas’ welfare. No matter how high the quality of their new enclosures, no matter how excellent the viewing and monitoring facilities, the pandas inside will still be denied the ability to roam free, to forage and feed as they like, to avoid or associate with companions, and to follow their instincts in selecting a mate.

The writer is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)


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