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Chris Packham - It is time to let the Panda go?

03/06/2009 16:55:25 news/Chris_Packham


Part One - Can we afford Pandas?

I've been upsetting most peoples sentimentalities again recently by saying, loudly thanks to BBC Radio and the written media, that it time we found the courage to give up on Pandas. Let them go, wave goodbye, maybe have a party, or a wake, whatever, just stop wasting money trying to ‘save' them from extinction. I know, a bit controversial to question conservation, the great invention of all the good folk who want to save everything from themselves, let alone spout such heresy about its most sacred icon. For those of you who are not aware of my maverick musings on this matter I'll précis them here.

An ex-carnivore bamboo muncher unfortunately ends up in the most populated place on earth. Its food predictably all dies with disastrous regularity and its digestive system is poorly adapted to its diet. It's slow to reproduce, tastes good, but in a blind strike of evolutionary luck it is plump, cute and cuddly. That is from an anthropological point of view. So given only the latter in the formative days of conservation the pioneers choose it as a symbol and begin to investigate its conservation. Panda porn, or the lack of it, made us all giggle in the sixties and seventies and gradually the fat pied ones became greater than the sum of the sense in keeping them alive. But having spent so much it's very difficult to stop. We are now spending millions and millions of dollars on a loser which lives in a country being stormed by the whole worlds greedy despite its horrible politics. It's Catch 22 for Pandas and we're caught by the credit cards despite our very own desperate credit crisis. So I say stop, save our relatively paltry funds for cases where we can make a real difference, because that's our job.

Leopards would change their spots

Dr Mark Wright from WWF was called to comment on my outbursts and very kindly offered a voice with an opposing opinion. The trouble is that we seem to agree about much of the argument, apart from letting them become extinct of course, but it's difficult for me to get cross about the views he outlines because they have a heritage of useful practice and a legacy of great success, and he certainly seems to agree with my view that now is a time when we face critical choices and these will come with a cost. But perhaps where we deviate a little is that I forcefully believe that we have to admit our mistakes and that times change and ideas must move with them and as the rate of that change accelerates so must the speed revision of our methods of best practice. That's evolution, adapt to changes or die out. You see the old maxim is wrong - ultimately given time a Leopard could and would change its spots!

Conservation - It's a business

So what's the problem? Conservation is very, very conservative and frighteningly inflexible. For all its modernisation it still seems rooted in a time when worthiness and self righteousness were essential fuels or tools to brow beat or confound or embarrass opponents into action or inaction. Despite the massive increase in the size and consequential financial turnover of the giant national and international charities, despite their necessary but often unpalatable corporatism, they still don't seem to realise that conservation is not a vocation, a religion, or a field where ‘being right' is the answer. It's a business and we're running a little, ill respected and frequently ignored company whose managers continue to think that caring counts enough to change the world. It's no longer even a quaint or nice idea, it's an embarrassing naivety. It's why we are still waiting for old ladies to leave us their small fortunes instead of being taken seriously by global corporations. It's why we are still playing with nature reserves and Pandas instead of planning to make a real difference, now when we could, and so desperately need to.

And there's worse... Some of conservations ‘big-boys' do actually have a little clout, and even more importantly they have rightfully earned respect, but because they are wrapped up in their new found game of politics, and all the compromises this sorry, silly game imposes they are increasingly pulling punches which should be launched and landed to make maximum impact. They can't do A because it will have a knock on effect with B which means C will get set back. They've joined the liars game and they are playing at our and the planets expense. Nice. It's a power issue, the have a little but are too scared to use it, because then some of their new friends won't talk to them, and some of their sacred members might get a bit upset.

Can we afford Pandas?

But here is the paradoxical truth of it. We are all right; we are all motivated by an honest desire to look after our world, even the Pandas. That's why I wouldn't argue with Mark Wright on Radio 5, he wants the same as me, and you, and I'm not going to undermine that through public bickering because I want a result, the best result we can afford. That's why it's my job to ask, ‘Can we afford Pandas?' Think about it please.

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