PANDA-MONIUM & RHINO LOANS

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:

SAN DIEGO––Shi-Shi, a 16-yearold
male panda bear, and his prospective mate
Bai Yun, age 5, are in quarantine at the San
Diego Zoo. The first pandas in the U.S. since
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suspended
panda loans in December 1993, they arrived
September 10, and are to go on exhibit in late
October or early November. They are to
remain in San Diego for up to 12 years.
The zoo has already spent $2.5 on
facilities and arrangements to obtain the bears,
and is to pay China an annual royalty of $1
million for the privilege of keeping them.
They are expected to be the biggest public
attractions in the history of the San Diego
Zoological Society.


Babbitt held up panda loans in
response to reports from experts, including
George Schaller of the New York Zoological
Society a.k.a. Wildlife Conservation Society,
that panda loans make money for China but do
little or nothing to enhance the survival of pandas
as a species, as pandas have successfully
bred in captivity only in Mexico City and
China, which now has a captive-bred population
of 48. Having already spent $1 million on
a new panda house, the San Diego Zoo
appealed Babbitt’s ruling, and won permission
to import the pandas for breeding-related
research 18 months later.
The American Zoo Association earlier
tried to halt panda loans unilaterally, but
was defied by Jack Hanna of the Columbus
Zoo, in Columbus, Ohio, who proceeded
with a temporary exhibition of pandas in 1992
despite the threat of sanctions.
China argues that it needs the
income from panda loads to help wild pandas.
On September 13, Chinese officials said they
lack the funds to proceed with a $24 million
plan to link isolated panda habitats by creating
17 protected biological corridors.
He Guangxin, director of the
Chengdu Zoo in Sichuan province, announced
in late May that his staff believe three of six
pandas who were artificially inseminated during
their brief April heat cycle are pregnant,
but ANIMAL PEOPLE has received no further
word as to their condition. A bamboo
shortage this year obliged the Beijing Zoo to
switch 15 pandas to an unfamiliar diet, albeit
more conventional for bears, including meat,
milk, and eggs. Thousands of citizens donated
funds to truck in bamboo from afar––but by
August at least one panda, Jini, age 3, had
become seriously ill from eating refuse that
some zoo visitors tossed into her cage.
Meanwhile, panda loans have led to
other exchanges between the major U.S. and
Chinese zoos, including the breeding loan of
the Pittsburgh Zoo’s two white rhinos to the
Chengdu Zoo, announced in July. “They do
much better in a herd situation,” Pittsburgh
Zoo head curator explained. “In their social
set-up, there need to be multiple females for
one male, who will spar with other males to
establish dominance.” The captive-born rhinos
failed to breed in 18 years in Pittsburgh.
Prague Zoo director Josef Janecek,
frustrated that only two white rhinos have been
born in the Czech Republic in the past 15
years, has a different idea. “Rhinos need to be
in the open,” he observes, so he’s trying to
raise $8 million to convert the 600-acre former
Soviet military base at Liberec into a rhino
breeding compound similar to the facilities at
the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee,
Florida, believed to be the most successful
captive breeding venue for rhinos in the U.S.

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