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Edinburgh Zoo launches Panda Keeper Experience: A letter from a panda

Victoria Martindale

Unkltitled 1 300x275 Edinburgh Zoo launches Panda Keeper Experience: A letter from a pandaMy Dearest Jia Li,

Left alone to face an uncertain future in an unstable world I want you to never doubt that I had no choice in the matter. When the hour finally came I reluctantly complied. So I, along with Yang Guang, am here on this strange mission obliged to carry the task of diplomacy far beyond the boundaries of our native territories to serve a country whose law decrees we are ‘things.’ I remember the apprehension that scratched my heart that was full of happiness and joy as I held your tiny naked body and made you squawk while cradling you tighter. I rarely left the den in your first days; you were clingy and fractious whenever I wondered for food. Exhausted, I snatched short naps, alert to your squeaks and pips and only after, full of milk, you had fallen limp with deep sleep my dear, my first, my only daughter.

What of you now, I sigh to the chilly air every day. How sufficiently do you roam within Wolong’s cramped artificial territory? I know I shouldn’t write to you like this; it only heavies my heart with more longing. They say I’m gone for 10 years, but circumstances will never make it possible for us to meet again, who can fool a bamboo bear?

I have more memories of you than you will have of me: your first venture from the Styrofoam den stumbling among the faux boulders; the two of us wrestling in the trickle of rain water draining down the path worn between two sawn trunks by my pacing. I taught you all that my own mother taught me, passing on the wonders of our species that have evolved to meet the challenges of survival in the complex, changeable and frequently dangerous wild, where our ancestors once lived. Tools meant for you to forge a rich destiny of your own but which you will never have the need to call upon. I, who patted your plump body to and fro, was your only protection within the steel confines that kept us from our urges to forage in forests now stripped of trees; wade and clamber in mountainous wildernesses now concreted over with vast commercial developments and live according to our culture that billions of years have imprinted deeply within us.

You wouldn’t recognize me today as the mother that I still am to you, despite thousands of miles forced between us. It is quite possible I have lost more than a little of my muscle tone from lack of exploration and inability to rove and the lack of humidity has clumped my coat and turned it dull. I slouch, dozing off much of the time, until the clanking of metal announces the presence of a man in overalls who throws food around. It’s always the same bamboo and plenty of it, now and again a solid cake you wouldn’t recognise. I never refuse.

But I can not sit idly by here in Edinburgh and not be concerned about what is happening over there in Sichuan province, for our time is running out. I fear once we are gone the same threat will only sneak up upon other magnificent moribund species. We are, after all, all bound in an inescapable net of interdependency, caught up in an arrangement of mutual destiny.

Some of them deplore the crisis they have driven us to and yet they consistently failed to act with any kind of authentic exigency upon the very conditions that brought it about. Theirs is an arrogance that refused to modify their behaviour one scintilla for any other form of life and this is in spite of granting us the superficial symbol of world conservation status. It is tragic that the force of global conservation failed to save us, but what is more tragic is that in failing us they overlook the demise of so many other species. And in the meantime everything else too has only become much worse.

I hoped a conservationist would see this. Perhaps I was too naïve; probably over optimistic. I suppose I should have realized that they threw in our towel at the same instant the momentum of deference inevitably took hold. They insisted on down playing the brutal reality with an abundance of absurd extrapolations and unctuous declarations of intent but which took no effect as precious years elapsed. Instead of practical solutions to protect us and our habitats they ripped us proud and dignified from our lands of ethnicity. In doing so all they succeeded to salve was their consciences.

While confined here I learnt about the latest phony scheme the panda ambassadors are kidding themselves with but my shattered dreams splinter no more. A pompous pious project remote from all reality. Its aims pertinent in their total absence of effectiveness but completely proficient in their guarantee of prosperity. I make no pretense to you about our exploitation that fails to observe an intrinsic majesty and yet which I am told still promises to inspire those who stump up to gawp at caged creatures as unnatural as can be – but which never educates or conserves. Through the iron grid Yang Guang graciously indulges their desires too while knowing as well as I that such tacts do nothing to reverse or even slow our passing.

There are, I grant you, a minority who mourn this latest spectacle, but at Edinburgh it is heralded as a celebration of professional marketing akin to that of a handshake on a commercial take over. Yet we allow ourselves to be violated without growls or resistance, the war was lost long ago far out of sight. I am over despairing about our future but while we have lost our freedom and our remaining days are as prisoners I resent any protraction. Push the bookings for an unforgettable Panda Keeper Experience, Jia Li.

With all my love,

Your mama Tian Tian

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  • Redsissy

    Quite (!)


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