Friday, June 15, 2012

Panda Diplomacy

China is lending us a pair of pandas, ostensibly to mark the fortieth anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic ties. The Chinese only agreed because Najib Razak made a plea for the pandas during a meeting with his counterpart Wen Jiabao when he made a one-day working visit to China on April 01, 2012.

English daily The Star quoted the Chinese media as saying in April that the pandas would cost RM20 million in outlay. This is expected to cover the construction of air-conditioned sanctuaries, import of bamboos from China for their meals, and training for local handlers. This "rent a panda deal" is going to cost Malaysians a lot of money and for what?

I ask again. Why would Najib want the pandas? Maybe it’s to fish for Chinese votes? Perhaps it’s to further raise his profile among the Chinese? We all know he has lost 99 percent of the Chinese vote, so why even bother? Are there still stupid Chinese in Malaysia, I wonder? Well, I am not counting the dodos still in MCA and the other mosquito parties because they are about to be extinct after GE13.

Already, Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed expressed disagreement with bringing the pandas here, saying priority should be given to conserving local endangered animals. Environmental NGO Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) also raised vigorous objection on the grounds that the animals' welfare is at risk. In addition, SAM president SM Mohd Idris said the cost of the pandas' upkeep over the 10-year loan period could have been better spent on the welfare of Malaysia's existing zoo animals and anti-poaching efforts.

Somebody should please advise Najib that giant pandas are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with only about 1,600 of them in the wild.

Why do we want to displace the pandas from their natural habitat? Are we so callous and cruel? I am sure Najib will howl in protest and even kick up a bloody fuss if he is removed from his palatial residence in Putrajaya!

Besides, the RM20 million would have been much better spent on our own zoos. I haven't been to Zoo Negara in a long, long time but we all have read about the many anecdotal tales of deplorable and wretched conditions, emaciated and poorly cared for animals and if truth be told, a third world infrastructure that courts derision and embarrassment.

I know. Maybe we can put the pandas up in Shahrizat’s condos? The pandas can even pick which one they prefer. But seriously, the pandas do not belong in our country, irrespective of the appeal of “panda diplomacy”.

Poor pandas – I really pray they can live long once they set foot in this country. I worry because we cannot even take care of our own endangered animals and still we want to show how smart we are about a species which we know very little about. I really hope the Chinese government will reconsider.

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