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Giant PandasBiology and Conservation$

Donald Lindburg

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520238671

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520238671.001.0001

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(p.282) Appendix B Keynote Address

(p.282) Appendix B Keynote Address

Giant Pandas

Marshall Jones

University of California Press

Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On behalf of Interior Secretary Bruce Babitt, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, it is a tremendous pleasure for me to be here with all of you today. And let me give special thanks to Dr. Kurt Benirschke and Douglas Myers and the entire staff of the Zoological Society of San Diego for the warm welcome and for hosting this meeting here, and to the World Wildlife Fund for supplying so much of the energy and the assistance needed to make this possible. A special thanks is due our partners from China—the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens—for joining with us to help make this conference possible.

Finally and most especially, thanks to Deputy Director of the State Forestry Association Ma Fu, who emphasized the tremendous commitment that has been made by the government of China to this extraordinary program and his hope that we could all join together—nations, private organizations, scientists, and individuals—in this common goal.

This is truly an amazing gathering, seeing so many eminent scientists, conservationists, and leaders from all over the world assembled in one place. Think about it—a meeting like this would not have been possible even five years ago, to have so many leaders, from not only the United States but from China and from other countries together in this way.

The organizers of the conference, I believe, have done an amazing job in developing a broad and deep agenda—a chance to educate one another, a chance to share ideas, and a chance to develop new strategies about how to conserve the giant panda.

Before we break into the papers, panel sessions, and workshops, where all of those things will happen, however, I think it is important that we take a moment and reflect on why we are all here. The giant panda is truly a unique animal. It is so much more than an evolutionarily extraordinary bear that eats bamboo, although that by itself would certainly be enough. It is so much more than a precious symbol of China and its natural heritage, although that too would be more than enough. It is so much more than a logo or a symbol for the largest conservation association, although that too would be enough to make the panda something special. It is so much more than the most valuable animal that any zoological garden can put on display, although that too would be enough. It is so much more than just a symbol of all of our precious and disappearing endangered and threatened species, but that too (p.283) would be enough. But the panda is all these things and so much more. To me, the giant panda is an incredible force of nature, an animal that has the power to not only bring all of us here together today, but an animal that has the power to mobilize the public, to mobilize everyone to participate in their own conservation interests. There is no other animal, no other natural phenomenon that I can think of that has such power to bring people together or to motivate people across all sectors of society, across all countries, across all kinds of organizations, to be united in one goal. And that goal is to do the things that Deputy Director Ma Fu talked about today: to save the giant panda, in it natural habitat for future generations to experience.

And that extraordinary power means that the panda also has the power to generate money, which can be used for its own salvation. That is why we have pandas here today in the United States at the San Diego Zoo, which has developed such a model program; at Zoo Atlanta, where they are well on the way to developing a similar program; and, we hope in the near future, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., following that same model. But it has not always been that way in the United States. Pandas have not always been in this country for the purpose of conservation.

When I first became involved in panda conservation activities in 1987, the giant panda already had a fifty-year history of display in the United States, from the first panda that came to the Brookfield Zoo in 1937, and then a succession of other zoos in the next few years. Those pandas were extraordinary creatures, and those pandas represented the state-of-the-art of what we knew and what we could do with pandas at that time in this country. But in a way, those pandas might also be thought of as a dead end. Pandas that came from China to this country—some of them lived short lives, some of them lived long lives—were not making the contribution to conservation in China that we would hope.

In 1972, after a long hiatus, we had a breakthrough again, and the government of China gave to the people of the United States a pair of pandas that went to the National Zoo, and became, in their own right, beloved symbols. But once again, those pandas were here for limited purposes. They were the best purposes that we all could think of at the time. Valuable research was done, and millions of Americans had the opportunity to experience them, but there still was a missing link. Harnessing those pandas to benefit the pandas in the wild suggests that there was so much more that could be done. The National Zoo started many programs, but there was still much more that remained to be done.

Soon after that gift, the world changed. The Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES) and then the U.S. Endangered Species Act, an act that was approved just a year after those pandas arrived in Washington D.C., brought to bear a host of new requirements and responsibilities, not just for governments but for all of us. These were to ensure that no endangered species involved in international trade was in that trade solely for commercial purposes, or solely for the benefit of those who were making the transaction and not the animals themselves. These acts were also meant to ensure that no endangered species in trade was taken in a way that was detrimental to the wild population. These were the goals of CITES, with the U.S. Endangered Species Act adding a further layer on top of that, to ensure that not only were transactions not commercial, and that they were not detrimental to the species, but in addition, that they actually would enhance the conservation of the species in the wild, in their native ecosystems.

Research, conservation, display, captive breeding—all of those things were possible, but if and only if they contributed to the conservation of the species in the wild. Unfortunately, we struggled here in the United States on how to implement the requirements of CITES and the Endangered Species Act. When I became involved with pandas in 1987, we had seen a succession of short-term loans to U.S. institutions, each one of them well meaning in intent, but each also representing potentially a lost opportunity in China and a lost opportunity in this (p.284) country for pandas to really be harnessed to power their own conservation.

And we wound up in a situation where there was a frenzy, as U.S. zoos attempted to negotiate with China for additional loans. It was at that time that the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) stepped in to develop its own giant panda policy and plan. It was also the time when we in the U.S. government, realizing that we were not living up to our obligations, imposed our first moratorium on panda loans to the United States. We developed our first policy in an attempt to use the permission process as something more than just a piece of paper. In 1991, we developed, as our first policy, the requirement that we use the permission process as an organizing principle for conservation. That same year, I attended a meeting on loan policy that was organized by the National Zoo, counterparts from China, and others, at Front Royal, Virginia. And as many of you that were there told me in no uncertain terms, we had missed the boat again. We still were not there, because the policy that we had developed still failed to really harness the power of the panda for its own conservation.

Ultimately, we heard from the IUCN, from WWF, from AZA, and finally from the Secretary General of CITES, all of whom told us that we needed to look again at policy. We were informed that our standards were not stringent enough and would not do enough to ensure that pandas would survive. We needed a new paradigm, a new model, a new way to approach panda conservation and the contribution that we in the United States could make to it.

And so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed another moratorium on panda loans in 1992. At that time, we began to think seriously about a new answer that had come to us from China; namely, long-term panda loans that could contribute, not just a small amount of revenue for a short period of time, but loans that could be put in the context of a comprehensive conservation program. From these deliberations came our new giant panda policy, published in 1998, based on the pilot program, which was developed right here at the San Diego Zoo. This policy was based on more than just having a permit, as you will hear tomorrow, when Ken Stansell and Craig Potter conduct one of the workshops about the regulatory program. The permit is only a vehicle for achieving conservation, and it has to be put in the larger framework of an entire program that will guarantee that giant pandas do not merely come to the United States to go onto public display, although that is a worthy activity. Nor are they to come here to be the subjects of interesting scientific research, or merely to be the mechanism for raising money to go back to China. Rather, loans of pandas to the United States must be all of these, and more, and must be woven together into a transparent program, so that all of us can understand the research goals and how that research contributes to panda conservation, and how the funds that are raised from loans will be used in China to contribute to the goals of China’s own conservation plans. Most of those funds must go to in situ conservation, but we also recognize that there is a role for ex situ programs. And so we welcome the opportunities to work with all institutions in the United States and in China.

But we also recognized that the U.S. Government’s giant panda policy is only one small piece of the entire puzzle. Deputy Director Ma Fu has detailed the extraordinary breakthroughs that have been made in China. We applaud the efforts of the State Forestry Administration and the government of China in establishing panda reserves, enhancing the breeding of pandas, developing a national plan, and banning logging activities in national reserves.

We in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service look back on two decades of close cooperation with the State Forestry Administration and its predecessors, and we look forward to many decades more of cooperation between our two agencies. We also applaud the efforts of the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens and the Ministry of Construction, new partners for us, but ones with whom we hope to build strong relationships in the future, led by institution like Zoo Atlanta, which, through its relationship with the (p.285) Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, is teaching us more about how we can all work together. We also applaud the efforts of the AZA in developing a giant panda conservation action plan and in establishing the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, led by David Towne.

The pioneering work that is being carried out here at the San Diego Zoo, and coming soon from Zoo Atlanta (and, we hope, at the National Zoo and perhaps other institutions in the United States), is only a small piece of the entire effort. The work being done in China must always be our goal and focus. There is also valuable work that can be done in other countries—in Mexico, in Europe, and in Asia. We applaud the zoological institutions that are here today and look forward to opportunities for international conservation organizations to become involved in this effort.

So for all of these reasons, I believe we are really poised on the threshold of an extraordinary opportunity, a pivotal point in panda conservation. The question is, will we seize this opportunity? Will we harness the power of the panda to contribute to its own conservation? I know that we can, I am sure that we must, and I am hopeful that we will.