China / Society

Pandas not visitors' pets, experts say

By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu and Su Zhouin Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-28 07:54

Pandas not visitors' pets, experts say
A female panda reacts nervously as she lands at Changchun, Jilin province, on June 25. She and a male panda from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda are on loan to the Siberian Tiger Park in Jilin province. The pair will be raised there for three years. Bai Shi / for China Daily

National symbols in high demand, but many zoos are not equipped to provide necessary care

Over the years, China's endangered giant pandas have been loved too much. And too little.

A national symbol as well as a big draw, both in visitors and revenue, pandas have long been sought for leasing by zoos nationwide. However, their care and protection have sometimes been secondary to their moneymaking potential, experts say.

The issues surrounding giant panda leases are very serious, and more government regulations are needed urgently, said Wang Dajun, a professor at Peking University who has been involved in protecting wild giant pandas for years.

"In some zoos, visitors can interact with giant pandas as long as they pay money," Wang said. "Giant pandas are an endangered species. They are not pets. Some zoos are treating them just like normal pets.

"It also gives the public the wrong impression that they are not endangered anymore."

In May last year, the State Administration of Forestry tightened regulations on leasing giant pandas to zoos. It has become increasingly difficult for small zoos to attract visitors by displaying pandas.

Take the case of Jinyi, one of two pandas leased by Zhengzhou Zoo from Sichuan's panda research center and who died of acute gastroenteritis last year.

Born in 2007, Jinyi was leased in 2011 to the zoo in the capital of Henan province from the Giant Panda Protection and Research Center of China.

An investigation found that the zoo had transferred Jinyi and a second giant panda to another den without permission from the forestry authority. It also said that poor management practices had contributed to the panda's death.

After Jinyi died, the zoo displayed smaller red pandas. But many visitors were disappointed, because these animals looked nothing like the giant pandas.

"I took my grandson to the zoo three times last year, but we only saw a giant panda once," said Geng Guochang, 70. "My grandson always asked me where the giant pandas were and when could we see them again."

Zhang Zhihe, head of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, said, "In the past, many zoos in China had pandas, but the situation has changed.

"The criteria for feeding pandas are very high. Many zoos cannot have them because the condition of dens and the zoos' management practices, keepers and veterinarians do not meet the criteria," Zhang said.

Approval needed

There were 394 captive pandas in China at the end of January.

The Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan, Sichuan province, has 201; the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan has 140; and the rest are in other provinces, Beijing and Chongqing.

The Chengdu base has loaned 30 pandas to 14 zoos around the country, while the Wolong reserve has leased 69 pandas to more than 30 zoos.

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