Pandas: An Offer Taiwan May Not Refuse?

In response to the recent publication by the Chinese Forestry Bureau of names selected for the pandas China wishes to send to Taiwan, in addition to the announcement by Taipei City Zoo that it has submitted a proposal for raising the pandas to the Council of Agriculture, the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan, Humanistic Education Foundation, Homemakers' Union and Foundation, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association and Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan jointly called a press conference on October 16, 2005 to make the following statement:

We propose the application of universal values based on protecting endangered animals and allowing animals to live and raise their young in freedom. We call on the government and the public to support the effort to let the pandas stay in their true homeland, and to substitute long-distance adoption of the animals in China for the plan to remove them from their home, raise them in captivity and put them on display as part of a gift-making activity that shows no regard for the natural behavior or needs of the species.

The above NGOs also require the Taipei City Zoo and the Taichung City Government to cease their battle over custody of the pandas, and put the budget proposed for constructing a cement display house for them towards a fund for adoption of the pandas on site in China, thereby securing for them a larger and more natural habitat. Through the joint actions of people in Taiwan and China in the protection of this species, it will be possible to promote long-term peace and friendship between our peoples.

We demand that the pandas remain in their real home on the basis of four universal values:

1) Conservation
The Taipei City Zoo professes to be acting in the name of conservation, yet the Zoo's plan is in violation of the worldwide principle of protecting species within their natural habitat. This principle is based on the fact that mankind, having excessively developed and stripped away animal habitat, should immediately take action to protect remaining habitat, and insure that endangered wild animals are not disturbed, moved or used by people, but allowed to live and raise their young according to their natural way of survival and in that habitat, the place most suitable for their protection. In recent years, China has already begun making attempts to release pandas into a semi-wild environment by using bigger, more natural captive spaces, allowing pandas to become gradually familiar with their original habitat. By treating the pandas as a "gift", and only requiring that CITES documents are prepared before allowing the pandas to be imported and raised in captivity, governments on both sides of the Strait are meddling with the principles and procedures of conservation.

2) Animal Rights
Taiwan's Shin Kong Group claims it will pay NT$200 million towards the construction of a 5,500 square-meter cement display house in which to put both pandas. According to reports, however, the living space given to the pandas released into the "semi-wild" environment in Sichuan Province in China is 240,000 square meters, and the space given in the "second phase of release" is ten times bigger. In comparison, bringing the pandas to Taiwan means exchanging this chance at increased freedom for a life in a far smaller cage in a subtropical climate for which this species is simply not evolved. In addition, Taiwan will also have to spend NT$40 to 50 million a year on maintaining all kinds of equipment for the artificial feeding of the pandas as well as the maintenance and air conditioning of their confined space. According to research by foreign animal protection groups, the cost of letting animals such as the rhinoceros live in a more spacious and natural environment in the wild is about one-sixteenth of the cost of raising it in captivity.

3) Life Education
The best examples of life education for our next generation will come from putting our efforts toward respecting vulnerable animals, and not making celebrities out of them, shutting them in glass rooms simply because they are "cute", and condemning them to a lifetime of being observed, with no possibility of escaping to seclusion. The website for China's Cheng-du Giant Panda Research Base explains that, in the name of development, mankind has reduced the panda's habitat and forced it to the brink of extinction, and therefore their task is to bring pandas to the reserve for breeding. However, they are fully aware of the difficulties of raising them in captivity, and that it is impossible to reconstruct the exact environment needed by pandas. This results in the lifespan of pandas raised in zoos being an average of two to three years shorter than that of those in the wild. The reserve recognizes that problems with raising giant pandas in captivity have still to be overcome. Taipei City Zoo should not become an accomplice in what amounts to the indirect murder of these pandas, simply for the sake of displaying them in the name of education.

4) Cross-Strait Peace
If the NT$200 million that the Shin Kong Group wants to spend on housing the pandas in Taiwan were to be donated instead to Cheng-du Giant Panda Research Base, this would not only benefit the Base's scheme for releasing pandas into the wild, but would also facilitate conservation-based exchange between Taiwan and China, and the establishment of a real, lasting friendship between our peoples.

Links:

Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan

Humanistic Education Foundation

The Homemakers Union and Foundation

Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan

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