Thursday, May 22, 2014

VIPs (Very Important Pandas)













At KLIA on May 21, 2014. Image credit: EPA/Shamshahrin Shamsudin











Female panda Feng Yi. NSTP photo by Mohd Fadli Hamzah

Yesterday, Feng Yi and Fu Wa arrived in Malaysia. The two giant pandas, to be loaned to Malaysia for a period of 10 years, symbolize the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations, which would be celebrated in 2014. And like it or not, Malaysian taxpayers are expected to grit their teeth and put up with it because they are footing the massive bills.

These pandas are a part of China’s assets that represent a clever scheme to earn revenue for the country. China's panda bears come with a hefty price tag. Not only did the Chinese profit from us but Prime Minister Najib Razak felt obliged to give the two pandas "citizenships" via the MalaysiaMy2Home status.

Panda loan deals generally involve annual payments and require large investments in terms of building suitable enclosures, maintenance, upkeep and food sources since their diet is limited to some bamboo species.

One estimate puts the ‘rental’ at RM25 million, RM20 million for the air-conditioned complex which consists of three main exhibit areas (kept at under 24°C to mimic their natural habitat) as well as an exercise area, holding pen, food preparation area, storage rooms, laboratory, veterinarian clinic, incubator room, nursery and a monitoring room (Natural Resources and Envi­ronment Minister G Palanivel cited RM25 million, according to another source), RM180,000 electricity bill monthly for ten years and RM6.6 million for insurance. It is doubtful whether these costs can be recouped in terms of admission fees. 

I find it preposterous that we are spending large sums of money on these mammals which are not even native to this country. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend that amount – if we can afford it that is – on saving our own endangered wildlife? Like the orang utans, rhinos, tapirs, sun bears, elephants, and tigers. 

I suspect we sealed the panda loan because Najib Razak is trying to curry China’s favor and at the same time, to detract us from our domestic problems which are festering and which Najib seems incapable of resolving. 

No doubt, the pandas will charm Malaysians but is it really worth it?

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