Pandas. Zoos want them, other bears want to be them (maybe?). But are they really worth all the trouble? Let's fight about it:
Point: Pandas Are Awesome!
The panda bear, above all, is a survivor of the keenest degree. You might deride it for its sloth, for its listlessness, for its struggle to spread its seed. But what you call laziness, I single out as a sign of a fighter. The panda bear is slow, the panda bear falters—but the panda bear has defeated every obstacle thrown in its way by that Queen Bitch Mother Nature. It has survived in spite of its own genome. Let us consider the following:
• 99% of the panda's diet is bamboo, yes. It's extremely low in nutrients. But the bear's guts are built to process meat—it's a carnivore, at its foundation. But through millions of years evolutionary battling and environmental change, its found itself inhabiting bamboo-rich regions. What'd it do—give up on eating and perish? No. It just ate the fucking bamboo—up to 40 pounds of it every single day—and shut up about it. Would humans do the same? No, we'd complain that there weren't enough GroupOn deals for bamboo.
• Pandas are fucking adorable. They look like humans wearing bear suits—WHICH IS REALLY, REALLY CUTE. They have sharp teeth, but choose to use them only for peaceful purposes.
• They're a boon for the perennially tense US/Chinese relations—sharing pandas between our countries shows that we have more in common that we'd ever imagine. Namely, a love for pandas and a concern for their wellbeing.
• They're a boon for the local economy for Washington DC, our nation's capital, my hometown, and a city with unsung fiscal problems due to shoddy congressional policy.
• They're really cute. Scientists don't even know why they have black spots! C'mon!
Pandas are victims of their own tenacity. Where other species have been eliminated by the slow, dark hand of natural selection, the panda has stood up and said "O, ye forces of the cosmos—unhand me. I stand on my paws a Free Bear, unburdened by my genome. Behold my bamboo chomps and despair." Evolutionary excellence. The unbridled determination to live another day. To eat another shoot. The lethargic king of all furred beasts. -SB
Counterpoint: Pandas Are Terrible!
I just want to get this straight right off the bat: I really don't hate pandas.* I just love nature. And nature has made it clear in no uncertain terms that pandas need to die. Now.
Here are the valid reasons for humanity's continued propping up of Ailuropoda melanoleuca:
• They are kind of cute.
And here are the reasons we should let them die out the way sweet Gaia intended:
• Female pandas can expect a solid 16 years of fertility, but they only ovulate once a year, and can only handle one set of offspring every two years. There's no clearer recipe for extinction. Even their ovaries are lazy!
• It's cool, though, because they won't have sex. That's the most popular charge leveled against pandas, and for good reason! They have no libido, no interest in repopulating the species. They'd rather sit and chew, chew and sit, even when there's panda porn shoved in their faces (which is a real thing that actually happened).
• Not only do pandas not procreate, they have fake pregnancies, presumably to get zookeepers off their backs about having all that free casual sex.
• When they do bother having sex, it's generally with family members. That's right: the one kind of sex pandas can't get enough of is incest.
• And when they manage to have babies? It's usually twins. One of whom is raised to be a good panda adult, the other of whom is left to die. Seriously. They almost always actively let one of their children die.
• Pandas are technically carnivores, but they chose to subsist almost entirely (we're talking 99% of intake) on bamboo, which is terribly difficult for them to digest. But they still spend 16 hours a day eating it. That's like if you decided to chew on styrofoam for 90% of your waking hours.
• There are accredited professional animal people out there who feel the same way! BBC wildlife expert Chris Packham recently—and rightly—noted that "giant pandas should be allowed to die out." Expert opinion! Expert British opinion!
• We fetishize them to an unhealthy degree. Do you know how much this Banquete Chair made of panda stuffed animals costs? $75,000. Gross. Pointless. Pandas.
• We spend millions—seriously, millions!—of dollars every single year propping up a species that has no discernible will to survive. Money which could go towards other, more ambitious species. Like homo sapiens! Or emu or whatever. Anything but these these giant depressive raccoons.
And so on. This is not an animal that wants to survive. This is the overstuffed, lobotomized Hamburgler of the animal kingdom, desperate to go lazy into that good night. And we simply won't let them.
Look, I'm not saying let's go kill some pandas, or let's kick them out of our zoos. I'm saying let's stop interfering with them, even if it's just for a little bit. Let's spend our conservation energies on species that actually give dodo about being conserved.
*Okay maybe I do hate pandas a little. A lot. I hate pandas a lot and so should you. -BB