Black and white of panda politics

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IN HER article on Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas (News, 2 December) Emma Cowing described the animals as being “on loan to Scotland for a period of ten years”. The pandas are in fact being leased to Edinburgh Zoo by the Chinese Government for $1 million a year for ten years.

In his article about the pandas, Iain Valentine of Edinburgh Zoo made much of the conservation value of this project. The captive panda breeding programme has done little to help the conservation of wild pandas. This was clearly illustrated when it emerged that after over 30 years of captive breeding the Chinese experts were unable to tell Edinburgh Zoo about the need to simulate a natural day and night lighting regime to stimulate synchronised fertility periods in the two animals.

Indeed captive breeding may have been disastrous for the species as the Chinese concentrated on producing cute cubs to fill lucrative contracts with foreign zoos while allowing the natural habitat of the pandas to be exploited, reduced and degraded. The conservation, economic and political value of keeping Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo is not as black and white as some would paint it.

John F Robins, Animal Concern