The Conservation Effort and the Giant Panda

Visiting the largest Giant Panda conservation effort in the world is surely supposed to be a positive experience, and I would be lying to say that my experience at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding wasn’t altogether awe-inspiring.

The Giant Panda possesses an image that has propelled the globe into preservation efforts. Itself as a species has been brought back from the brink of extinction; there are now over a thousand, which may not seem like much but has been an incredible improvement compared to decades ago.
However, beyond that, the Panda is also the image of the World Wildlife Fund. This group in itself represents mankind’s efforts to reverse the devastating consequences on nature and selfish actions our species has had, and its image is the Panda.
Courtesy of the World Wild Fund for Nature
As the Chengdu Research Base says:
Through a combination of physical features that closely resemble a teddy bear, giant pandas attract worldwide attention. Their playful natures, black and white fur, soft round cheeks and body, and their common sitting postures make them endearing to all that see them. Similar to humans, pandas grasp onto their bamboo and other foods ...   
... Despite few people having the opportunity to view pandas in the wild, this kind of enthusiastic interest cause giant pandas to be the most photographed among all endangered species. Pandas are thereby seen as the world symbol for animal and plant conservation. This species is treated as the world symbol for all animals, plants, and habitats needing conservation. 
It was inspiring, to see how successful their efforts had been over the last few decades. How the Panda has been known and loved by the entire globe, and efforts have begun to bring its species back. It is beautiful. Pandas, themselves, are marvellous creatures, and it took a long time for us to realise that they were beautiful enough to be worth an effort to stop them dying out.
But it makes you wonder.
I remembered something I read a long while back about conservation efforts. Besides the usual chatter about how detrimental effect the human species has had upon living things (We have, as a single species, created the greatest amount of detriment to all other living things in a time span of the last few decades. Much more than every other species has had upon each other since the first moment that things have lived), it also raised a fair point. We save what we love. And although that can be interpreted positively — ‘we love nature and other species’, so we save them — it also means that it essentially turns into a competition.
All Pandas do is eat, sleep, and roll around! Of course it reminds us of ourselves!

The species that are most adorable, most relatable, and most loveable, receive the greatest funding. I find it hard to imagine such a strong conservation effort finding motion if the driving image had been a threatened slug, rather than a quite adorable and silly-looking furry creature that procures endless ‘ngaw!’s from 97% of humans that lay eyes on it. God knows where the conservation effort would be if the image was of, what, a plant?!
Plants are pretty much equally just as important, from a biological perspective (arguably even more important), but we are subjective animals. We preserve what we like. And what we ‘like’ is often cute, relatable, and beautiful creatures.
As the Chengdu Research Base says:
Chengdu Panda Base experts realized that saving a species can not be achieved only through scientific research and wildlife conservation institutions unless the public were encouraged to alter their actions and participate in conservation activities to help create fundamental improvements to protect and save the existing and quickly vanishing environment. Education was recognized as the most effective means to conserve and protect biodiversity.
{Bolded words are my own edits}
It makes you think, though. It made me pity the species that receive hardly any funding because of, well, our society deeming them ‘ugly’ or altogether quite unremarkable. (I believe it was a lichen or something of that sort — arguably, it could be more important as a species due to its position in the food web, but obviously pandas are more cuddly than a lichen). Perhaps society just failed to get the ball rolling in the conservation effort simply because the species wasn't attractive enough to gain enough attention.
A great deal of conservation isn’t really about conservation, then. It’s trying to save what we love. It’s not about what’s most important to the food web, in a biological perspective. It’s about… It’s about preserving the things that capture our hearts. It makes it seem like a game sometimes, doesn’t it?
I’m not trying to say that conservation is poor, or bad, or in anyway unnecessary (in fact, conservation is an issue I feel strongly in favour for) I just find it remarkable that a great deal of it ends up boiling down to something like a competitive market for empathy. It shouldn’t be.
The 'Panda Kindergarten'!
Other thoughts were aroused as I was marvelling in the success of this Research Base. I wondered where the distinction would be made between natural evolution and human-induced evolution (or, human-induced extinction). What I mean by that is, well, evolution is a natural process that has been occurring for billions of years. Species become extinct when they are less competitive, and that is a way of life (most literally).
But with our endless intervention, these lines are blurred.
Are we, through our conservation efforts, preventing ‘natural evolution’ from taking course? Perhaps some of the species that we are trying so hard to conserve ought to naturally ‘die out’ due to lack of adaptation or because they are simply not the ‘fittest’ to survive in our changing environment. I also one read an article that questioned whether humans would ever evolve any further, because in recent years we have not changed to fit the environment, but rather, changed the environment to fit ourselves, which perhaps may go against evolution (though, arguably, there is only an extent to which we can change the environment.) Where is our future going?
These are questions I don’t have the answer to, but are thoughts that weave through dwellings on conservations. 
Ultimately, at the end of the day, humans have created an accelerated rate of extinction. A rate far beyond anything that the history of life on Earth has witnessed before, and at a rate that many believe is too rapid for life (as we know it) to adapt adequately enough. Evolution, as we understand, requires time to adjust. Species are not formed overnight, or even in a lifetime. At our current rate of environmental change, all species are doomed if we do not do something about conservation, or if we do not rethink our actions and their consequences.
I believe that in my lifetime (and in the lifetime of many people reading this), environmental conservation will become one of the most pressing issues (if not, the most significant issue) that our society will have to face and address. From environment conservation sprouts issues concerning agriculture, hunger, disease, social materials, energy, and the very stability of all life on Earth, including our own Homo sapiens.
What did I learn in the brief moments wandering this 100-hectare conservation park? I learned that pandas are beautiful. And to not forget that so is the rest of life, in all its shapes and sizes. I also learned that conservation is a complicated topic and step 1 is realising your own mistakes, which many of us are yet to do. 

And I also learned that humans can be pretty big ass-hats sometimes, but we’re working on it. 


  1. I loved reading this so much! You go Manjekah! You really have a gift with words :) and a lovely caring spirit for an issue that is so important.



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Hello! I'm a student from Australia. I like photography, am aspiring to be a Doctor, have fallen in love with many things that life has to offer, and hope to see more of it. I've been blogging for a while and over the years what it means to me has changed. Currently still trying to figure that out, but here I am in a weird hybridisation of photography, film, blogging, and the confusion of a young adult, you'll find me here writing about my experiences and life. Or whatever tickles my fancy. Whether that's entertaining or not is yours to decide. Stay hydrated, kids.