Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club said: “I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species.”
Well, I don’t hate pandas. Let me get that on the record. They’re perfectly decent mammals. Evolution has given them two amazing skills:
1. They can eat bamboo, a fast-growing weed with almost no nutrients. Bamboo is harder than brick or concrete – in fact, it rivals steel. Pandas can live off it. But they spend so much energy on digestion that they are basically lazy slobs that sit around munching on bamboo all day.
2. They look so cute! Not just because of their monochrome fur. The black dots around their eyes make it look like they have enormous peepers – which triggers our instincts to adore and protect babies. (That’s the same reason we like orca whales – but will you still like them after you watch them hunt and eat this baby grey whale?)
Pandas are not very good survivors. The females are in heat for as little as 24 hours in an entire year. And since they are solitary animals, they often just don’t run into another panda during the short window they can breed. In fact, the only reason pandas are still around is because humans love them and will do anything to help them out.
That’s an interesting evolutionary adaptation to a world run by humans. I wonder if any rhinos are going to be developing black eye-spots soon.
But now Berlin has its own pandas. Meng Meng and Jiao Qing arrived at the airport on Saturday and were welcomed by the mayor. They will be on display at the West Berlin Zoo starting on July 6. Chancellor Merkel is expected to visit soon.
Let’s take a brief moment to remember Berlin’s last panda, Yan Yan, who died of severe constipation in 2007. Again, these are not well-built-animals.
The zoo is leasing the pandas from China for €900,000 a year. Their new enclosure with a red pagoda cost almost €10 million. For a comparison: The Tierpark Berlin – Berlin’s superior zoo, in my opinion – gets about €6 million a year from the city in total.
So are two pandas worth all that money? I’m not convinced. There are 260 species of monkeys in the world, and the Berlin Zoo has only 10-20 of them on display. They’re missing gibbons and colobus (which are also black and white!), just to name a few. Wouldn’t it be nice to get 50 new kinds of monkeys instead of just two bears?
I get how the plan works: The pandas will attract millions of visitors, who will pay tens of millions for tickets, and so the zoo will be able to invest in new species. But what about the idea of the zoo as a place for quiet reflection? As The Simpsons depicted, pandas can be violent beasts.
For my part, I will be doing my best to avoid the panda-monium by sticking to the Tierpark in Lichtenberg. While everyone else is waiting in line to get a selfie with a bamboo-muncher, I will be hanging out with manatees and ruffled lemurs and yes, red pandas. Those are the superior pandas anyway.