To splurge RM20 million does not make sound economic sense when the health of the economy does not look promising.
Taxpayers have to fork out RM20 million to entertain two special guests when they arrive here for a 10-year stay. They will live in luxury while the human species struggles with the bare mininum in the heat of daily existence. The cuddly bears will be the stars in a vast wetlands park as curious onlookers make a beeline to see them. They will sure be a better draw than all the unsightly animals in the poorly maintained National Zoo. But the news of the Treaty of Panda was greeted with a lot of noise.
These bears are not your ordinary animals that you can just keep for show and treat them as you please. They are endangered species found only in China where they are treated as national treasures. Occasionally, China loans the bears to some countries and this gesture is called “panda diplomacy”. They are touted as ambassadors of goodwill and peace. It was in this context that two baby pandas will be loaned to Malaysia as a mark of friendship. This is the simple part of the deal. But the toughest act is putting the infrastructure in place for the two cuties to stay in lasting comfort.
When these “exotic” bears are taken out of their natural environment or sanctuaries, and placed in a foreign clime, many safeguards must be set into motion. It is not a matter of simply bringing them over here and letting nature takes its course. Preliminary work must assidously be carried out to pave the way for the furry creatures to set foot on our soil. But Malaysia appears to be in a great hurry to pluck them out of their native habitat and plonk them down on a not so fabulous wetlands. We are only seeing the tourist dollars without bothering to go into the nitty-gritty of the whole operation.
To get an inkling of the complexity of the project, one only have to take a trip down south and observe how our neighbour manages its own panda project. Like us, China had loaned two pandas to Singapore and the deal was inked in 2009. The animals were not flown to the island overnight. For the next three years, Singapore had been meticulously laying out the groundwork to welcome Kai Kai and Jia Jia, probably at the end of the year.
In 2010, four varieties of the right bamboo species were planted, which today numbered about 3,000 clumps. The bamboos were planted at the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari and other empty plots of land. To ensure the bamboos are of the right kind, batches of them were sent to China for “taste test”. The bamboo shoots will be fed to Kai Kai and Jia Jia to see if they go down well with their sensitive palate.
Then there is the huge enclosure erected for the year-round comfort of the guests. It measures 1,225 square metres and its indoor temperature will be kept at a constant 18 to 22 degree centigrade. To make it look like their native terrain, there will be plenty of greenery and boulders for the bears to roll, gambol and climb. Singapore indeed knows how to give the distinguished residents a five-star treatment.
But the bears heading towards Malaysia may not get a similar posh home. The duo – let’s christened them Jib Jib and Ros Ros – may be in for a bare existence, perhaps a hastily built shelter for them to become exhibits for public entertainment. No work has started yet to build the enclosure on the expansive freshwater wetlands, which is supposed to be a wild sanctuary for migratory birds from the Northern Hemisphere. But the eerily silent wetlands can only inspire bearish sentiment: RM20 million may sink into the desolate wetlands.
To splurge RM20 million on only Jib Jib and Ros Ros, which may escalate over the next 10 years, does not make sound economic sense when the health of the economy does not look promising. Many multimillion-ringgit projects have gone to waste – victims of mismanagement and corruption. It would make far more sense to spend the RM20 million on the famished animals living on handouts at the National Zoo and other animals on the verge of extinction than on two exotic beasts which must be kept alive in an artificial abode. But the deal has been signed and the diplomatic waters must not be muddied. Let’s hope the two chubby envoys will bring luck – and change.
Panda diplomacy or a disaster in the making?