Panda conservation is not 'greenwash'

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The man behind the deal that brought two pandas to a Scottish zoo has defended panda conservation against allegations of "greenwash".

Iain Valentine, Director of Animal Conservation at Edinburgh Zoo said the panda brought money into conservation.

Biologist and TV presenter, Simon Watt, warned against Chinese "greenwash" when weighing up the value of conservation projects.

The comments were made at a debate held during Biology Week.

The event "Do we need pandas? Choosing which species to save" was held at the Linnean Society on Monday 15 October 2012 and was organised by the Society of Biology.

Simon Watt was on the four-person panel and made his comments in answer to a question from the audience.

Mating matters

Panda grab from Wildlife finder

"Chinese greenwash, that's the kind of stuff we need to be thinking of," he said.

Greenwash is the deceptive marketing of green public image, when more substantial environmental policies are not being implemented.

"If we're going to be putting poster boys [such as pandas] on pedestals they're not going to be just used for good things".

He said that the pandas could distract attention from other areas where conservation money could be better spent.

Conservation 'cash cow'

Edinburgh Zoo's Director of Animal Conservation Mr Valentine, who was in the audience, explained from the floor of the debate that this did not match his experience of panda conservation.

"The pandas are paying for themselves. We're not taking our money away from any other species."

"The money that the pandas are making for us is going straight back to panda conservation, it's not detracting away from any other money in any of our other projects," he said.

Speaking after the event, he explained that pandas are a conservation "cash cow".

"I don't think pandas are a model for how conservation can be funded... they are unique within the animal world as they have an appeal which is unmatched by any other species."

"Panda conservation work needs to be held up as an great example of what can be done in terms of the conservation of a species. It's holistic, it's embracing all of the issues and it's working," he said.

"It's a good indication of the environmental credentials of the Chinese," he added.

Sitting on the panel with Simon Watt at the debate were environmental expert Dr Mark Avery, presenter and scientist Dr Yan Wong and Dr Sandra Knapp, Head of Plants Division at the Natural History Museum.

The discussion focused on the importance of conservation efforts to preserve habitats as part of an effort to save species.

"The panda debate turns into [a question of] if we concentrate on conserving pandas, do we end up conserving habitat?" said Dr Wong.

This concern for habitat is driven by concern for biodiversity.

"I think we have to focus where we get most biology for our buck," Simon Watt said, suggesting less well-known conservation projects such as Yasuni National Park, a biodiversity hotspot in Ecuador, which has 2,200 different species of tree.

"The panda's home is worth protecting but I think there are other places that are probably more worth protecting," he commented.

Speaking after the event, Mr Valentine said that panda reserves can also have very positive consequences on other species in their habitat using Wolong "the most important panda reserve" as an example.

"Its a world UNESCO site and a biosphere reserve because of its importance to pandas but also its importance for plants and many animal species."

"I would like to think it would exist even if pandas were not there as its so damned important but the fact is that it does have pandas and that just puts the icing on the cake."

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