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The "Save the Panda" debate

Updated on March 12, 2013


When people see pictures of pandas, they think of its status as an endangered species. Next, they think of the environmental movement. This is partly by design because the panda has become a flagship species for several organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The panda bear is important to many people because it symbolizes something near to people’s hearts, conservation of the planet. The Save the Panda movement means a lot for the history of humanity because it marks people’s change of attitude towards the environment. Sadly, because of several factors including its high cost, some question whether the Save the Panda movement should be continued. Taking a close look at previously gathered outside sources uncovers logical reasons to continue efforts to save the panda. Allowing the panda to go extinct would devastate China’s biosphere, as well as the environmental movement as a whole. As it stands, humanity has the ability to work towards restoring what it destroyed. Many efforts have been successful in aiding the panda’s survival. People should support panda conservation.

Some Interesting Facts about the Giant Panda

The Giant Panda is a species of bear which inhabits the Yangtze basin, located in southwest China. The panda can weigh over 350 pounds, and can grow to be five feet tall (“About the Giant Panda”). Panda’s have inhabited the world ever since the Pleistocene age, which occurred around three million years ago (“About the Giant Panda”). It is impossible to know completely, however, it is likely that the panda found its home in China after the source of its originally carnivorous diet went extinct. The panda adapted to this drastic change by becoming an herbivore. Pandas have an acute sense of smell and can vocalize eleven different sounds. In the wild Pandas can live up to twenty years, however they are primarily solitary and are not known to produce much offspring during their lives. In part, it is because of these characteristics that makes panda conservation such a grueling task. However, I believe it is worth it to save such a meaningful and legendary animal.

Brief History of the Giant Panda

In ancient times, Pandas roamed all over China’s unique biosphere. During the Han dynasty, around 206 BC, the Chinese believed that the panda held mystical powers (“About the Giant Panda”). It was not uncommon to see captive pandas decorating the gardens of the extremely wealthy. Pandas were considered to be a national treasure (“About the Giant Panda”). The panda has been a symbol of China’s nationalism ever since humans first populated China. However, the western world did not learn about the panda until 1869, when French missionary and naturalist Pere Armand David told Europeans about the sights he witnessed while in China (“About the Giant Panda”). It was probably around this time that people started mass-hunting pandas for their pelts in order to sell them in the west for a large profit. Currently, the giant panda is on the World Conservation Union’s list of threatened animals (“Panda Facts”). Without humanity’s decision to aid the panda, the panda would already be extinct.

Why is the Giant Panda an Endangered Species?

The panda is not endangered on its own accord. Personal greed and human expansion caused the downfall of the panda population. For over a hundred years, the panda has been a sought after target by hunters. As human population grew larger and larger, the panda’s bamboo diet diminished rapidly. Pandas eat anywhere between twenty-five and forty pounds of bamboo each day and spend around fourteen hours a day eating (“About the Giant Panda”). Bamboo flowers and dies away (“About the Giant Panda”). And it takes around seven years for a bamboo forest to grow back (“About the Giant Panda”). There are over twenty varieties of bamboo; in the past when a bamboo forest flowered and died out the pandas would simply migrate to another region with bamboo (“About the Giant Panda”). However, because of the panda’s drastically diminished and fragmented habitat, many panda’s have died from starvation (“About the Giant Panda”). This also caused the rate of panda reproduction to dramatically fall. Before it was banned, Chinese logging companies cut down large forested areas to provide for a growing population of humans. Those forests were home to the giant panda. Pregnant pandas often stay in hollow trees, logging causes a shortage of hollow trees (“About the Giant Panda”). Because of these adverse influences, the number of giant pandas in the wild was only 1,100 during the 1980’s (“New survey reveals nearly 1,600 giant pandas in the wild”). Columnist Leo Benedictus reported that some see the panda’s misfortune and declare that the panda is an evolutionary dead end, meaning that the panda is doomed to go extinct. However, it was not nature that made the giant panda an endangered species, but humans. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of humans to do everything they can to save the panda.

Why is the Giant Panda a Flagship Species?

Nature is like a GPS in a car. Sadly, humanity popped the car’s tires and stole the GPS. Now nature only has limited power over the ecosystem. In order to restore ecological stability and balance, environmentalists must act as the GPS. However, without a car, the GPS cannot make any progress. The general public provides the car. Without the financial support of the public, the environmental movement would stall. That is why environmental foundations such as the WWF use a flagship species, such as the panda, to gain public support and funding for environmental efforts. Funds going to organizations like the WWF not only support pandas, but support many other endangered species as well.

The Yangtze Basin

Protecting the panda necessarily involves protecting the panda’s habitat, which happens to be the Yangtze basin in China. The heartland of China is unlike any other geographical area in the world. Discover magazine columnist Lizzie Buchen wrote that the process of protecting the panda’s habitat protects one hundred mammals, 250 birds, and thousands of insects that live specifically in the Yangtze basin. The golden monkey, crested ibis, and takin are other endangered species that also inhabit the Yangtze basin with the panda (“Why should we save the giant panda?”). Millions of people live in the Yangtze basin (“Why should we save the giant panda?”) And forty percent of China’s water supply comes from the Yangtze basin (Buchen). Therefore, allowing the panda to go extinct would greatly affect both animals and humans.

The "Save the Panda" debate

According to article written by Leo Benedictus, some environmentalists believe that the panda should be allowed to go extinct. There biggest motive for this belief is the thought that too much money and time is spent on saving the panda. They consider the panda to be an evolutionary dead end. According to columnist Leo Benedictus, some believe money could be used more effectively spent on other endangered species and biospheres, they assert. Mr. Benedictus also reported that some see the panda as an icon keeping the public’s attention away from other vital environmental causes that may not be as cute and fuzzy as the panda. In reality, the panda’s large puffy cheeks house strong muscles which allow the panda to chew through tough bamboo (“About the Giant Panda”). They believe that continuing the “save the panda” effort goes against logic and common sense. This is not true. On its own, the panda is unable to cope with its diminishing habitat; the panda is not an evolutionary dead end because nature is not the cause of the panda’s predicament. There is still much research to be done. Therefore, it is impossible to know the exact effects that extinction of the pandas would have. It is easy to predict that China’s unique biosphere would suffer greatly from diminished conservation efforts. Every animal plays a delicate role in the ecosystem. It is true that some strive to appeal to people’s emotions to obtain support for the panda. However, there are logical reasons to support the panda as well. Pandas play a big part in distributing bamboo seeds, and many other animals rely on bamboo for survival (“Why should we save the giant panda?”). Taking any creature out of the ecosystem causes a chain reaction affecting other creatures. It is impossible to repair the damage that has been done to the environment by humans. However, the public’s full support can reverse this downward trend. The panda can be saved, in fact, it is being saved.

Recent Panda Conservation Successes

Chinese and American scientists and volunteers have put forth much effort to help save the panda. The Chinese government currently protects 3.8 million acres for nature conservation (“Giant Panda Overview”). This allows the isolated panda populations to unite, producing more pandas. In 1998, the Chinese government banned logging companies from entering certain forests (“Giant Panda Overview”). And they are working to re-generate destroyed forest areas (“Support the Zoo”). Over three hundred pandas live in Zoos (“Giant Pandas”). Much has been learned about pandas in captivity, allowing scientists to better aid these bears in the wild (Zhang et al.). In captivity, pandas can live to be 35 years old (About the Giant Panda). In 2009, the panda population was estimated to be from 2,500 to 3,000 (Li et al.). This is over a hundred percent increase since the 1980’s, showing the success of panda conservation efforts. If panda conservation is not continued, much money and time will be wasted. As long as people are willing to help the panda, the panda population will continue to grow. If conservation is continued, it is possible that the panda will one day be able to live in the wild as it once did hundreds of years ago.


The panda is a symbol of the environmental movement as a whole. And the environmental movement will be a landmark in history because it signifies that people realize the destruction humanity caused the earth and that they want to do something about it. The panda may be just one species out of the thousands that are endangered, but it happens to be the one that the whole environmental movement hinges on. If the panda is allowed to go extinct, the whole environmental movement will falter. If the panda stops being a flagship species, another cute and fuzzy animal will take its place, because humans love beauty. If the panda can be saved, the environmental movement will have a big success. And, if the panda can be saved, any animal can be saved. The panda can and will be saved if people give the “save the panda” movement their support. As human population grows, conservation is necessary to ensure the survival of the earth’s diverse species. I believe that together, people can make a huge difference by saving the ecosystem for the enjoyment of future generations. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! :)

Literature Cited

“About the Giant Panda.” Pandas International. Pandas International. Web. 6 Apr. 2012.

Benedictus, Leo. “Should Pandas be left to Face Extinction?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 22 Sep. 2009. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Buchen, Lizzie. “Are Efforts to Save the Panda a Giant Waste of Money?” Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing Co., 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

“Giant Pandas.” Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Smithsonian Institute. n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

“Giant Panda Overview.” World Wildlife Fund. World Wildlife Fund. n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

“New survey reveals nearly 1,600 giant pandas in the wild.” World Wildlife Fund. World Wildlife Fund. 10 Jun. 2004. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

“Panda Facts.” China Through a Lens. China Internet Information Center. n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

Li, Ruiqiang et al. “The sequence and de navo assembly of the giant panda genome.” Nature 463 (2009): 313. Web. 29 Feb. 2012

“Support the Zoo.” Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Smithsonian Institute. n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

“Why should we save the giant panda?” World Wildlife Fund. World Wildlife Fund. n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Zhang, Baowei et al. “Genetic Viability and Population History of the Giant Panda, Putting an End to the “Evolutionary Dead End?” Molecular Biology and Evolution 24.8 (2007): 1801. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


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