The Panda Craze

The piteously extravagant and undeserved media and public hype over the breeding of Edinburgh Zoo’s two giant Pandas, Tian Tian and her prospective mate Yang Guang, is a cause for worry and concern. Especially at a time when we have witnessed a tragic blaze at Five Sister’s zoo in West Lothian killing a substantial number of reptiles and other animals including 11 meerkats. People seemed not too bothered by these events yet any news about Tian Tian and her oestrogen levels and we quickly turn to our screens. The BBC have now featured the sensationalised scrutiny of the panda breeding in their headlines alongside more justifiable stories, in terms of news values, like the capturing of the man suspected of being responsible for the Boston Bombings and the Earthquake in China killing more than 150 people.

Artificial insemination has been carried out on Tian Tian following a week when hormones showed she was approaching her 36-hour fertile period. In a desperate and almost forlorn attempt to get the Zoo’s most popular creatures breeding, it is telling of British Society’s very needless obsession with pandas. A grassroots campaigning animals charity, Scotland for Animals said the drive to breed Tian Tian is a a purely ‘financial and commercial’ project with the intention of ‘increasing visiting numbers to the zoo’. Scotland for Animals underwent a campaign to expose the ‘lies’ of Edinburgh Zoo who, they feel, hide the commercial implication of their actions behind a blanket emphasising ‘a conservation effort’.

Once entering the official website for the Zoo one can’t help but notice a special section dedicated to buying tickets to visit the Pandas, alongside a link to the  pandacam. Even when contacting the zoo the first thing they say is to visit the website if your inquiry is connected to visiting the giant pandas. Now it’s almost impossible to contact the Zoo unless it’s an emergency inquiry because of the melodramatic amount of international attention driven towards the sex life of these sexually uninterested, animals. You can’t get away from these black and white, bamboo-eating bears. When they first arrived in 2011, loaned by the Bifengxia Breeding Centre in China, massive cheering crowds gathered as they were driven to the gates, in a spectacle as exaggerated and pathetic as the opening of Krispy Kremes in February. The media flocked like a pack of birds to the airport desperately awaiting their arrival as if they didn’t have anything else important to report on. A costly, specially-refurbished VIP enclosure was created for these celebrities as they were taken down the ‘red carpet’ into the zoo’s grand entrance. Moreover, this move signifies a wider socio-economic, cultural and political deal between the Scottish and Chinese Governments, representing the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level. Pandas are,therefore, not just animals but ambassadors to China,and symbols of international diplomacy at the greatest standard.

The question to ask is why this intensive publicity and hype? Perhaps it’s because pandas are an endangered species, a rare and valued Chinese national treasure, meaning complete and utter precedence over every other animal in the country. There are only 1,600 of them in the wild, and around 300 in captivity. we perhaps because they are simply endearing and pleasant to look at? If 158 million people like a video of a panda sneezing on Youtube then surely they safely tick the ‘cute’ box? A more plausible reason maybe that Edinburgh is home to the only two giant pandas in the UK, surely such a rarity on our Island will inevitably give way to mass appeal and attention? Or is it something more intricate and deeper, as Henry Nicholls, author of The Way of the Panda explains, it maybe  due to their almost baby-like features with their flat face, large eyes and clumsy nature.

The panda craze illustrates wider issues to do with journalism in today’s world. If there is such international and domestic fascination and excitement over the news of two pandas breeding does it qualify as important news? The acute distinction between ‘of the public interest’ and ‘in the public interest’ should be addressed. This story is quite clearly of the public interest but not in the interest of the public. In terms of generating mass political debate and changing the face and structure of countries for decades to come, the pandas are not in the same league as the conflict in Syria or the global financial recession for example.

However, as symbols of international relations, and subjects of mass tourism, marketing, merchandise and general (and genuine) adoration, these creatures will continue to attract special journalistic heed, News and the Zoo is a business, business is commercial and commercial is about selling. The Tian Tian and Yang Guang show is to go on for a while yet.

Interview with Scotland for Animals

Tian Tian the panda is in the mood for love

Image supplied by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Tian Tian the panda, also known as Sweetie, may be ready to mate with Yang Guang as early as next week on Tuesday 3rd or Wednesday 4th April.

Edinburgh Zoo and their team of experts have identified an increase in Tian Tian’s oestrogen and a decrease in her progesterone. Female pandas only ovulate once a year, and there is only a 36 hour period in which a female panda can fall pregnant. The two pandas at Edinburgh Zoo will be introduced to each other on Tuesday for 15 minutes at at time. They will probably be put together three times on the first date of Tian Tian being in oestrus. If natural mating does not occur on the first day of oestrus, the zoo may consider the option of artificial insemination.

However, expert keepers will be keeping an eye on the two, as pandas often tend to fight after mating or instead of mating.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Zoo said has said: “We understand that the whole country is in a state of heightened anticipation, but whatever the outcome of next week, we as animal conervationists and scientists have learnt a huge amount in such a short time about this captivating species. We are just delighted to be playing our part in the essential long term worldwide panda breeding programme.”

Image supplied by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Panda Mating Facts:

 Panda mating season is from March to May.

A female panda may be in heat from two to seven days.

Pandas reach reproductive maturity at the age of seven years which lasts until they are 20 years old.

A female panda attracts a mate by rubbing against trees and urinating which leaves a scent which grabs the attention of male pandas, as well as by bleating calls.

The male panda leaves the female panda after mating and has nothing to do with the raising of the cub.

Pandas can have between one to two cubs at a time, but because newborn pandas require a high amount of care the mother will usually reject one of the cubs.

12 pm news bulletin

Edinburgh Pandas get Lynx effect

by Pamela Paterson

It has been announced today that the two Giant Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are to be sponsored by deodorant company Lynx during their mating season.

New Lynx advert featuring Edinburgh Zoo's pandas

Lynx is well-known for its advertising campaigns, which claim the opposite sex cannot fail to be wooed by the effect of their deodorant, known as the ‘Lynx Effect’. The new advert comes as the pandas begin their long-awaited breeding season.

While the pandas themselves are unlikely to be sprayed with the alluring scent of Lynx, smell does play a pivotal role in panda breeding. Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo said, “In the wild pandas use a chemical communication system involving pheromones to locate and choose mates. Scent is also how males will know that female pandas are fertile.”

Tian Tian, the female panda, is being closely monitored by the zoo to see when she is ready to conceive. Pandas have been found to be notoriously picky in choosing their mates, however the zoo believes their pair are getting along well and there is a good chance they could mate.

Lynx, meanwhile believes its knowledge in attracting the opposite sex could come in handy when the Pandas choose to get together.  Kieran Danaher from Lynx said, “It’s the perfect time to partner with Edinburgh Zoo and use our attraction know-how to help out with panda mating season.”

Edinburgh Zoo prepares for panda-monium

by Pamela Paterson

Tian Tian, Edinburgh's future female panda.

Edinburgh Zoo is gearing up for the arrival of two Giant Pandas
that are being sent from China for a 10 year stay in Scotland.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are currently in quarantine in China preparing for their 5000 mile journey to Scotland, where they will stay in a purpose-built enclosure in the zoo. It is hoped the pair will breed, helping to conserve the species which is in rapid decline. Pandas are notorious for their unwillingness to reproduce. Their future keeper Alison Maclean, who has just visited the pandas in China, believes that they will let her know if and when they are ready to take the plunge. She said, “Although they’ve both bred before, our two pandas haven’t met yet, so I’m looking forward to introducing them when the time is right.”

She added, “The conservational implications of this 10 year project are huge. It’s about working together globally to conserve this iconic species and contributing to the breeding programme.”

According to Ms Maclean, the Scottish climate is perfect for pandas, as they prefer cool, damp environments and do not like excessively hot weather. She said, “I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how they react to snow – they’re supposed to love it and are well used to it in the area of China they are from.”

The date has not yet been fixed for the panda’s arrival. The zoo is paying up to £600,000 a year for the privilege of keeping the pandas, not including the bill for the endless supply of bamboo needed to feed them. The zoo plans to grow a small amount of bamboo themselves (around 15%) and import the rest from a German supplier. Pandas eat up to 20, three-metre, bamboo stems every day.

The excitement is slowly building as the Scottish public awaits the special arrivals, whose enclosure includes bullet proof glass and a ‘love tunnel’. Ms Maclean, who has spent the past three weeks getting to know Tian Tian and Yang Guang, believes visitors will immediately fall in love with the pair. She says, “They’re actually enchanting – from how they sit down, to how they hold things, how they eat and how they take everything in around them. I think when people actually see them they will be mesmerised.”

Head of Edinburgh Zoo suspended

Edinburgh Zoo will soon welcomes two Chinese giant pandas

By Edoardo Zandona

Gary Wilson, the chief executive for Edinburgh Zoo was suspended yesterday after ‘anonymous allegations’ were made against him.

The nature of the allegations remains unknown, but a spokeswoman for the attraction said they are going to be treated ‘extremely seriously’. She also revealed that an internal and external examination are under way, although the police are not involved.

The suspension arrives immediately after the zoo announced the arrival of two specimen of giant pandas from China. Mr Wilson was responsible for all the zoo’s major projects, including the pandas import.

Edinburgh Zoo is owned by the Royal Zoo Society of Scotland, and is one of Britain’s biggest zoos. It opened in July 1913 and it attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year.

 

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