Pandas: So…Should We Just Let Them Die Out?

I have always been somewhat negative about pandas. In the harsh tyrannical reign of mother nature, it seems hard to imagine this adorable, fluffy bear fitting in anywhere.  And today, Giant Pandas are now endangered, with only around 1,600 left in the wild and only 300 in zoos. Many people don’t seem very surprised by this fact, myself included. They sleep for around 16 hours a day and have a diet consisting of 99% bamboo, it therefore appears on first glance quite obvious why they aren’t doing very well. Although….they have been around for over 2 million years…why are they struggling now?

In Defence of the Panda

The key reason for the Giant Panda becoming endangered is due to habitat destruction. It appears vast areas of land once filled with pandas have been destroyed by, you guessed it, humans. As the population of China has grown, more and more areas of bamboo have been destroyed. And we are talking huge areas of land.

Here you can see what I mean. The size of the range of Giant Pandas is now minuscule compared to what it once was. It seems then, perhaps pandas were arguably very well adapted to their environment. Not many animals are successful enough to cover such huge stretches of land. So, in defence of the panda, they do consume a very wide variety of bamboo and as such were well-fed throughout much of the year, while their long sleeping times allowed them to prosper on this diet. According to a fairly recent study, panda’s staggeringly only use around 38% of the energy typical for animals of their size (see here), only really moving when essential, making them very efficient animals in a way. So given their previous success, it appears pandas are just another animal of the thousands that has been pushed to near-extinction by the relatively recent actions of us humans.

In Defence of the “Let ‘Em All Die” Argument

Nature is cruel. It is a case of survival of the fittest. That in mind, watch this video:

You have to appreciate how many people don’t see this animal as particularly well built for such a cruel world. It is a slow and clumsy animal, often careless with its young and probably one of the pickiest animals for it’s size in the world.  It therefore appears not very adaptable to change, a key trait required for the survival of most animals.

The panda has adapted well to its surroundings, but perhaps so well it has lost its ability to adapt quickly to major changes, given adaptability is supported by a wide range of food sources and a high rate of reproduction.

However! This is still to say that ultimately humans are to blame for the decline of the panda. Though, bamboo has proven to be one of the most useful resources in China’s history, used for buildings, roads, medicine, clothes as well as other things. It’s a shame then that pandas invested so much of their food requirements into this resource. Particularly given that when human’s want something, we tend to take as much as we want with little consideration of the side-effects.

The Cause?

One could argue that the decline of the panda was inevitable given the uses for bamboo, one could also argue that what is occurring is incredibly natural, with survival of the fittest and so on. But this doesn’t make it ethically right.

Overall the cause of the decline of the panda is the same cause that has seen to the extinction of around 63% of all mammals since around 1600AD. Humans. We live in the epoch many are calling the Anthropocene (the human epoch), the sixth major extinction event in our Earth’s history.

Pandas are one of the many victims of human influence and given our excessive exploitation of the worlds resources at the expense of the majority of our worlds inhabitants, I believe we should definitely, at the minimum, be attempting to keep them alive.

Want to see more on these extinction events? See here

References:

Sputniknews.com. (2015). Scientists Discover Why Pandas Eat and Sleep So Much. [online] Available at: http://sputniknews.com/environment/20150710/1024455744.html [Accessed 7 Aug. 2016].

Nationalzoo.si.edu. (2016). Giant Panda Facts – National Zoo. [online] Available at: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/giantpandas/pandafacts/ [Accessed 31 Jul. 2016].

YouTube. (2016). Watch: Giant pandas create trouble as staff cleans their house. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3tNgwQwKK4 [Accessed 5 Aug. 2016].