The media is currently on tenterhooks as Yang Guang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas currently resident in Edinburgh Zoo, look like they might actually be in the mood for love.
Good news, if you are a fan of that lovable black and white furry thing, notorious for being unable to breed and eating nothing but the wrong kind of grass.
I used to be a person who worried about the fate of the giant panda, the white rhino, various rare tigers and innumerable other species that inhabit the planet with we humans. I used to worry about the fact that animals were in danger of extinction. We had to save them!
Sadly, no matter how hard well-meaning folk try to save the various species, it seems inevitable that many will become extinct—extinct in the wild, at least. There are active captive breeding programmes at zoos and wildlife parks around the globe whose aim is to breed enough of the near-extinct creatures that they can be reintroduced into the wild.
Presumably, once in the wild, they will promptly go extinct again.
As I’ve got older, I’ve come to realise that trying to save cute animals from the inevitable is flawed. Not wishing to poke fun at the panda, let’s look at some facts about them:
- They live in bamboo forests in China.
- They eat the bamboo.
- This is odd because they’re a bear, and bears generally don’t eat grass as their staple diet.
- Female pandas ovulate once a year, and remain fertile enough to breed for about three days.
On the face of it, the panda should be left for evolution to deal with. It has nothing going for it, save being cute to look at, and being the poster child of all kinds of well-intentioned eco-friendliness.
Take a look at the white rhino. It’s not as cute as a panda, but it’s also endangered. It’s reached this stage because the rhino’s horn is believed to have medicinal properties in certain Asian countries. The poor old white rhino is killed, just so its horn can be hacked off and sold.
All kinds of efforts have been made to prevent this pointless and senseless poaching, yet it continues. It seems the white rhino will soon follow its black savannah-mate, and only be seen in captive environments.
All kinds of animals and plants are in serious danger of going extinct. There are various reasons for this, but the main one is humans. Humans are just too resourceful, and outbreed everything except bacteria. Some of these humans, though, want to retain the status quo. They want to see animals in the wild, and want to help protect them.
This argument is flawed. Something like 99% of all species that have ever existed since this planet began to support life have become extinct. It’s what nature does. Things change. Humans, rightly or wrongly, are accelerating the changes, but that doesn’t mean we should be trying to prevent animals dying out. No amount of hand-wringing is going to prevent an inevitable natural outcome of there being too many humans.
Besides, killing an animal just for the flawed belief the tail or horn is some fantastic medical cure-all really just proves to me that humans don’t deserve nice things any more. We should be pragmatic about nature, let things die out, be hunted and poached to extinction in the wild, because once they’re gone the poachers will be out of luck, too.
My attitude is perhaps a depressing one, but I think I’m being realistic. Despite the WWF’s fifty years of campaigning, little seems to be really changing for the better. In that time, the human population on Earth has virtually tripled. With all the will in the world, I can’t see how we can save other species from extinction when we can’t stop our own species from outbreeding the resources available. In fact, by what measure do we think we are even capable of preventing natural extinction due to human greed? We’re as much a part of the biosphere as any other species.
So, I say we should let species die out in the wild. They may remain captive curiosities, but in many ways perhaps seeing them in zoos may make us realise just what damage we’re continuing to do to our world. Do not ignore the fact that all things will change, and humans too will one day be extinct—especially if we carry on the way we are now.