China has a monopoly on the giant panda – and the lucrative rental business has helped save the species from extinction.
One of this year’s pleasing news was that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changes the status of the black and white bear from endangered to vulnerable. Behind the success are years of efforts from China – something that costs big money.
However, the authorities have identified a secure source of income. The world’s zoos seem to have an insatiable craving for the global bear celebrities. Lions and elephants in all honor – the pandas are still rare and thus attract many visitors.
Beijing currently has 56 giant pans on lending to 18 parks in 13 countries, according to data from Chinese authorities last fall.
They are the sole lessor and have managed to create an economy around it. The giant panda is a “money machine” that benefits many pandas and their living environment in a good way, says Allan Carlson, panda expert at the World Nature Fund.
The giant panda is thus still vulnerable, but China has used the money from the rental business for efforts to preserve the species. Among other things, it is about protecting their vital bamboo cafeteria against intrusion and support to people living in the panda forests and who need to find other energy solutions than bamboo wood.
They plow back the money in nature conservation, and that’s a pretty big sum because it costs a million dollars a year to rent a panda. According to authorities, between 70 and 90 percent of the revenue goes to field efforts, says Allan Carlson.
Following the location of the giant pandas in the world can also give a clue as to the relations between China and other countries. During the Cold War, Mao Zedong gave away pandas as a sign of friendship. But a study from Oxford University has determined that China is now leasing pandas to countries based on trade agreements and other possible partnerships.
“Why do Edinburgh Zoo have pandas when London Zoo does not have it? Probably because Scotland has natural resources that China wants to be a part of,” wrote researcher Kathleen Buckingham, who led the study published a few years ago.
According to the lease agreement, pandas born abroad are expected to return to China after a number of years. But two twins who grew up in the United States found it difficult to adapt when they were brought to Sichuan Province last year.
Mei Lun and Mei Huan rated the traditional steamed cornbread and demanded American cakes instead. They should also have had difficulty with the language, according to state media.