zw3.09: pulchritudinous pandas

Intrepid journalist Hank Talbot continues his exposé of the disturbing political agenda behind the zoo world facebook propaganda blitz.

As promised, it’s panda time.

pulchritudinous pandas

how to sustain your dragon

part 9

As promised, it’s panda time.

panda diplomacy

panda diplomat

Yes, panda diplomacy is a real term.

Panda Diplomacy is a term used to describe China’s use of Giant Pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries. The practice existed as far back as the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625 – 705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor. . . . The People’s Republic of China revived panda diplomacy in the 1950s and has become known in recent decades for this practice. From 1958 to 1982, China gave 23 pandas to nine different countries.

nixon, clowning around with pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing

These black-and-white bear-like diplomats were sent forth to spread good will towards Chairman Mao and the Chinese government. Mao even used a pair of lovable pandas to court the bean-curd tiger that is the United States.

One highlight of panda diplomacy was Chairman Mao Zedong’s gift of two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1972 after Nixon’s historic visit to China. . . . The pandas proved to be wildly popular and China’s gift was seen as an enormous diplomatic success.

That part you might already know; but did you know THIS part of the story:

. . . (Nixon responded by sending back a pair of musk oxen.) . . .

mao with muskoxen susie and sam

Perhaps the Chinese have an unfair advantage with the whole animals-as-diplomats thing. After all, they’ve had since the Tang Dynasty (almost 1500 years) to refine the process.

But I think we got the better end of that deal.

So did everyone else, apparently. Faster than you could say “skadoosh!” people were lining up to see our new panda pair.

. . . 20,000 people visited the pandas the first day they were on display at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. An estimated 1.1 million visitors also came to see them the first year they were in the United States . . .

By 1974, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing had gained such international notoriety that British Prime Minister Edward Heath requested a pair for the United Kingdom. Mao obliged with Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching.

panda pimping

As important as these diplomatic freebies might have been, the post-Mao Chinese government took a more possessive approach.

By the year 1984, however, pandas were no longer used purely as agents of diplomacy. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans. The standard loan terms include a fee of up to US$ 1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan are the property of the People’s Republic of China.

Two decades later, China’s panda pimping has become a lucrative enterprise, generating millions of dollars for the Chinese government. Additional benefits include the goodwill of panda-lovers around the globe and considerable financial aid for the expensive price tag of Giant Panda conservation.

Pandas, as it turns out, are rather expensive creatures to keep around. A 2006 New York Times article detailed the woes of Zoo Atlanta, then home to panda pair Yang Yang and Lun Lun.

Lun Lun and Yang Yang have needs. They require an expensive all-vegetarian diet — 84 pounds a day, each. They are attended by a four-person entourage, and both crave privacy. Would-be divas could take notes.

But the real sticker shock comes from the annual fees that Zoo Atlanta must pay the Chinese government, $2 million a year, essentially to rent a pair of giant pandas. Giant pandas are also on loan to zoos in Washington, San Diego and Memphis. . . .

yang yang and lun lun (photo: Steve Schaefer/Agence France-Presse)

. . . [Dennis W. Kelly, chief executive of Zoo Atlanta,] says Lun Lun and Yang Yang, Zoo Atlanta’s giant pandas, are draining the zoo’s coffers far faster than they can be replenished — even though visitors flock to see them. And when people cannot make it through the gates, self-described pandaholics blog with doe-eyed ardor about the bears or stay glued to the zoos’ panda Web cams. . . .

for about the same cost, you can keep five of these guys . . .

. . . But after the first year, crowds dwindle, while the expenses remain high. In fact, a panda’s upkeep costs five times more than that of the next most expensive animal, an elephant.

A curator, three full-time keepers and one backup keeper care for Lun Lun and Yang Yang at Zoo Atlanta. A crew of six travels around Georgia six days a week, harvesting bamboo from 400 volunteers who grow it in their backyards. (Zoo Atlanta tried growing its own on a farm, as the Memphis Zoo does, but Lun Lun and Yang Yang turned up their noses.)

“It’s crazy,” Mr. Kelly said. “These bears, year-round, are some of the most pampered animals on the planet. . . .”

. . . or one of these guys

. . . Then there are the contracts, most lasting 10 years. Because China retains ownership of the pandas, zoos lease each pair for $1 million a year. If cubs are born, the annual fee increases by an average of $600,000. In addition, each zoo has agreed to pay another million or so each year to finance research and conservation projects in the United States and in China. Taken together, Mr. Kelly says, the contracts are worth more than $80 million to the Chinese government. . . .

. . . Zoos say they can break even on pandas, but only for the first few years.

“Year three is your break-even year,” [Chuck Brady, the chief executive of the Memphis Zoo] said. The Memphis Zoo expects to lose about $300,000 per year on the pandas it leased in 2003. “After that, attendance drops off, and you start losing vast amounts of money. There is a resurgence in attendance when babies are born.” Because they have had cubs born, the San Diego Zoo and the National Zoo have fared better financially than Zoo Atlanta and the Memphis Zoo, which still have not had luck with their breeding programs. . . .

the problem with pandas

As it turns out, getting lucky [with breeding programs] is pretty rare where pandas are concerned. This is due, at least in part, to the inherent reproductive limitations of the species:

Giant Pandas reach sexual maturity between the ages of four and eight, and may be reproductive until age 20. The mating season is between March and May, when a female goes into her estrous cycle which lasts for two or three days and only occurs once a year . . . The interval between births in the wild is generally two years. (emphasis added)

In other words, the female panda’s estrous cycle is like a roulette wheel of fertility. Even if the male panda follows the immortal wisdom of Wesley Snipes and always bets on black, the black-and-white she-panda is still a highly capricious ovulator—and, “to compound the challenge, males have their own reproductive cycle.” (this according to a 2006 Newsweek article).

With the pressure to perform falling on the male, it would seem that having multiple males might increase the odds of successful fertilisation. In fact, as a BBC article notes, pandas in the wild “are more likely to mate as they have the opportunity to indulge in the species’ elaborate mating rituals. These see males compete aggressively with each other for females on heat.” It seems to be a nearly universal truth: there’s nothing like the spirit of competition to get a male’s [dander] up.

However, as we have already seen, leasing a pair of pandas is a costly endeavour; picking up an extra male or two is a luxury most zoos simply cannot afford. What’s more, the pool of potential papa pandas has a notoriously lackluster libido. The same BBC article provides the hard numbers: “More than 60% of male pandas in zoos or sanctuaries exhibit no sexual desire at all, while just a tenth of them will mate naturally . . . Thus, the vast majority of panda births in captivity are the result of artificial insemination.”

If there isn’t room in the freezer for panda semen, zookeepers have to try to get pandas to make babies the old-fashioned way. Motivated by a desire to help protect an endangered species, and a desire to break even on expensive panda leases, zoos have undertaken a number of creative projects to try to stimulate panda reproduction in captivity.

panda porn

panda porn

A 2006 CNN article from Bangkok, Thailand, documented the future plans of zoo administrator and aspiring porn producer Prasertsak Puttrakul:

The pandas’ first mating season — a three-day window — came last week. Despite a widely-publicized encounter between Chuang Chuang, a 6-year-old male, and 5-year-old Lin Hui, the mating apparently was unsuccessful . . . Because of that, Prasertsak has prepared a DVD of pandas having sexual intercourse to show the couple, hoping the demonstration — call it panda porn — will inspire them to make a love connection.

I do not know how Prasrtsak’s porno turned out, nor how well it was received in the ursine community. I will point out, however, that the idea was not completely original. Avid ABBA followers, eighties-era musical-theatre junkies, and regulars on the 2005 euro rave scene are all familiar with the hit song “One Night in Bangkok” (featured in the musical “Chess”). Moreover, the chinese government was producing panda sex films as early as 2000—a programme tastefully termed “sex education” by the BBC.

Pandas in a Chinese research centre are being shown videos of other pandas mating as part of a plan to encourage the animals to reproduce. The films are screened twice a day at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre in Wolong, in the south-western province of Sichuan, the state news agency Xinhua reported. The so-called “sex education lessons” have now become standard practice for all male pandas entering adulthood at the centre . . . .

. . . The latest participant, Didi, was placed in front of a television set for his sixth birthday, for his first lesson in the facts of life. Didi seemed to like his gift immensely, as his eyes were glued to the screen, Xinhua reported.

The method has been tried in the past – it was last attempted at Wolong in April 2000 – and experts are optimistic the scheme will be a success.

“Through this kind of sex education, we expect to arouse the sexual instincts of giant pandas, enhance their natural mating ability and raise their reproductive capacity,” said Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong centre.

Zhang Guiquan, an official with the China Giant Panda Protection Centre, added, “We won’t use drugs, such as Viagra, to help giant pandas increase their sexual desire and capacity. We believe this can be achieved through sex education and physical exercise.”

performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals

Zhang’s reference to “drugs, such as Viagra” does not come out of left field. A number of zoos have tried to toss their male pandas a bone, so to speak, by giving them performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals when that magic three-day window comes around. A 2000 BBC report details one such endeavour.

Chinese pandas are being given the anti-impotence drug Viagra, according to the Wen Hui Daily newspaper in Shanghai. It is hoped that the drug will boost their famously feeble attempts to mate. . . .

. . . The problem with many captive pandas is that they are curiously coy about amorous advances from the opposite sex.

Whether Viagra, which helps stimulate an erection, will help is not known, but the newspaper said: “The male panda can only mate for at most 30 seconds at a time and hence the chances of getting the female pregnant are very low.

“With Viagra, the male could last for up to 20 minutes.”

Sally Nicholson, Head of International Policy at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, told BBC News Online: “There is a myth about pandas being reluctant to mate. In the wild, they can certainly do it, but in captivity they do have a problem which no-one has yet cracked.

“I say good luck to the researchers testing the Viagra, as long as they are very careful to avoid any damaging side effects.” . . .

herbal medicine gone wrong

. . . Zhang Hemin, director of a panda centre in the central province of Sichuan, told the the Wen Hui Daily he was unsure if Viagra would help.

“We tried to give them Chinese medicine in the mid-1990s,” he said.

“As a result, the sex drive of the pandas did improve but they also became hot-tempered and attacked the females. That obviously wasn’t so good and we had to end the experiment.”

Mr Zhang said: “The real problem is that many pandas do not know how to mate.”

targeted advertising

I’m not sure why Pfizer has cornered the market on panda projects, but almost every study I’ve come across references Viagra. You don’t have to watch too much television to know there ARE other anti-impotence drugs on the market. Perhaps these other companies should try a targeted ad campaign to catch the eye of the panda-project audience.

We’ve heard from a lot of experts in these BBC articles, all with valid viewpoints. Given the subject matter, however, it seems appropriate that we hear from a Mr. Wang (in a 2002 BBC article).

Chinese scientists have experimented with giving the male anti-impotence drug, Viagra, to giant pandas in an effort to get them to breed. The trials began last year at Wolong Nature Reserve in the south-western province of Sichuan, but have had no success. . . . The scientists have now abandoned the experiment, but some experts say the researchers should simply find new candidates. . . .

. . . The first panda to be given Viagra, 16-year-old male Zhuang Zhuang, which translates as Strong Strong, did not live up to his name.

“No result on him at all,” said Wang Pengyan, deputy director of the reserve, adding that his treatment had been an experiment and there were no plans to give the drug to other pandas.

But other experts said it could be worth trying on candidates other than middle-aged Zhuang Zhuang.

“You can’t say Viagra has no results on pandas. We used the wrong panda. That panda basically has no capability,” said Guo Feng, a scientific researcher at Wolong.

“In the last few years, we’ve given Zhuang Zhuang many chances but he simply can’t do it.”

Mr Wang said that by contrast, the “panda porn” did seem to have some effect.

There you have it. Mr. Wang prefers the panda porn.

trojan pandas

With the world so preoccupied by panda-related prurience, it’s easy to forget about something as unsexy as panda diplomacy. Serving as a diversionary tactic, the panda sex craze makes panda diplomacy a much more powerful weapon of international political subterfuge.

A 2006 Newsweek article unravelled the complex panda plot, carried out in the form of a “gift” from China to Taiwan.

They spend most of their lives asleep. They bite. They’re absurdly inept at sex. But in the realm of diplomacy, giant pandas have few rivals. For more than a thousand years, China’s rulers have used the coveted beasts to win allies abroad. The 20th century’s most celebrated pair, Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling, arrived in Washington after Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Now Beijing is hoping two other furry ambassadors can help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, the 56-year armed standoff between mainland China and Taiwan. When Chinese officials unveiled a pair of cubs early this year, calling them “a gift” to the island, the people of Taiwan went wild. Polls say more than 65 percent of Taiwan’s population are in favor of accepting the mainland’s offer.

trojan panda

But Taiwan’s president, Chen Shui-bian, is urging his government to say no. He fears that the pair would be what the press is calling “Trojan pandas.” Skeptics see the animals as a perfect symbol for Beijing: no matter how friendly they look, watch out for their claws. They say it’s no coincidence that a mainland-run contest gave them the names Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, echoing the Mandarin word for “reunion”: tuanyuan.

Since 1949, Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland–by force, if necessary. In past years, China’s armed forces have staged massive military exercises directly across the straits from the island, and recently Chen has been testing Beijing’s nerves with his campaign for Taiwan to be treated as a sovereign state. In an e-mailed newsletter last week, Chen urged the Beijing leadership to let Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan stay home in the mountains of Sichuan, not locked up in a zoo. “Pandas brought up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy,” he said. The analogy to Taiwan’s freedom was hard to miss.

The pandas’ role in the dispute is not merely symbolic. On the contrary, accepting the pandas as a gift could be tantamount to accepting Beijing’s claim that Taiwan belongs to mainland China. According to the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Beijing can make an outright gift of pandas to any zoo it likes within China. Foreign zoos are different: they can get the animals only on loan, in the form of a scientific exchange. For U.S. zoos, the price of those “scientific” deals can be well over $1 million a year. Nevertheless, Beijing insists that the pandas would be “a good-will gift” to Taiwan, “free and unconditional.” “It’s a very clever gesture,” says Lo Chih-Cheng, head of a Taipei think tank. “If we accept them, it will trigger a domino effect.”

Chen stood firm, but lost the next election—perhaps, in part, because his opposition to the panda gift was so unpopular. The new Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, accepted the gift when he took office in 2008. Apparently the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was not powerful enough to redefine the highly-contested sovereignty issue at stake in most cross-strait relations; the last time I checked, Taiwan was still its own republic.

how to sustain your dragon

The chinese government has abandoned the dragon as a symbol for the country, supposedly because of the negative connotations dragons have in western culture. Unofficially, the panda is now the country’s symbol—although the BBC doesn’t bother with the “unoffical” qualifier when describing the giant panda in a 2000 article: “The animal is indigenous only to China and is the country’s national symbol.”

This changeover, however, has only occurred in the last half-century or so. For over two thousand years, the Chinese Dynasty was a powerful empire, symbolised by the dragon. Only after the empire fell did another symbol come to the fore: a warm, fuzzy, cute creature, beloved ’round the world. The dragon has defrayed the enormous conservation cost of keeping this species around (a species that, if it wasn’t so cute, probably would have died out a long time ago) by pimping the bears out to the rest of the world. Taiwan dodged a bullet in 2008, but make no mistake that the panda is a dangerous diplomat akin to the big rocking horse the people of troy found outside their city gates.

pulchritudinous pandas

pulchritudinous pandas

True to form, this zoo world ad focuses our attention on the pulchritudinous panda, distracting us with promises of exposed breeding and a live show. If we have learned one thing from Mao, it’s that even the most dedicated anti-imperialist loves a good bristol show. If you do as the zoo world ad asks, if you click to create something beautiful, you may think you are entering the den of a paper tiger . . . but you are, in fact, only feeding the dragon.

Lady Liberté

so proud of you

Stay strong, good reader! Do not be deceived by yet another zoo world ploy for neo-imperialist power!

Skip the bristol show. Satisfy yourself with a simple ogle of the now-familiar-but-still-beauteous breast of Lady Liberté. You have, once again, made her proud.

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