Thursday, September 24, 2009

Night-Night for Ling-Ling?

Quick - shout out the name of a noted conservationist? Hell, any name you shouted out other than mine likely would have fooled me. I can scarcely name any noted conversationalists and I spend a lot more time in the world of conversation than I do in the world of conservation.

Imagine my surprise yesterday afternoon when I stumbled across the name Chris Packham. According to the story I saw on the MSNBC site (I sense Michael Steele is sending me my "we regret to inform you that we are excommunicating you from the GOP" e-mail upon reading that admission), Packham is the president of Britain's Bat Conservation Trust and vice-president of the Wildlife Trusts. I will confess that I was far more impressed by his C.V. when I initially misread what it is he is the president of as I thought it did indeed say "Bat Conversation" Trust and I was intrigued by how one gets them to speak and what it is they enjoying talking about. Rabies? Head rushes? How badly they have been screwed out of royalties due and owing to them by all who manufacture radar systems? Alas, when I realized he was in charge of a Trust dedicated to the conserving of bats and not talking to them, I was considerably less impressed.

Shame on me for Mr. Packham is apparently a big deal in the universe of do-gooders. He has a bit of an edge to him as well. In an interview with Britain's Radio Times Magazine, Packham - the conservationist - ordered up one of Governor Palin's "death squads" for pandas, worldwide, "We pour millions of pounds into panda conservation. I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity." My favorite quote from the piece is when he refers to panda bears as nature's dead end kids. "Here's a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It's not a strong species. Unfortunately, pandas are big and cute and a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund." Packham bemoaned the panda bear as a "t-shirt animal". Now, while I have never seen a panda wearing any article of clothing, his point is well-taken.

In fairness to Mr. Packham, while he has been keelhauled globally for picking on the world's favorite, fuzzy black and white cookie with eyes, he did not only suggest that a basis exists for punching the panda's ticket to the last roundup, he expressed his disdain for cats, dogs and - egads - bipeds. According to Mr. Packham, when asked in the new issue of Radio Times which animal he wouldn't mind seeing made extinct, he said, "Human beings. No question. That's the only one." Presumably, Packham was exempting himself, his interviewer and whoever was paying him for making the appearance from his list.

Is he right about the panda? I have no idea. Among the almost limitless number of things about which I know nothing is the relative worth of the panda bear. Candidly, they have always appeared to me to be more at home at Lucasfilm than in Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I cannot imagine a set of circumstances under which any self-respecting black bear, brown bear, grizzly bear or polar bear parent would allow his little cubette be squired around the forest, jungle or other natural-sounding habitat by a panda bear. Polar bears eat seals, beluga whales and other cool, heretofore 'live' things. According to the always-accurate folks at Wikipedia, "though belonging to the order Carnivora, the Giant Panda has a diet which is 99% bamboo. The Giant Panda may eat other foods such as honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges and bananas when available." From afar, Yogi and Boo-Boo appear to be a more accurate representation of a bear than does a panda.

Predictably, not everyone is in agreement with Packham - including some of his peers in the do-gooder community, proving once again perhaps that hell hath no fury like people responding to an attack on a cute, fuzzy species of animal. Even if - or perhaps especially if - the animal in question is - next to General Tao's chicken - America's favorite Chinese import. "It is a daft thing for Chris to say, and an irresponsible one," Mark Wright, a WWF conservation science advisor, told British media. "Pandas have adapted to where they live. They live in the mountains where there is plenty of the bamboo they want to eat. It's like saying the blue whale is in an evolutional cul-de-sac because it lives in the ocean."

And if the blue whale ever needs a water-resistant pullover to handle those inclement weather days on its cul-de-sac, I have a lead on one that comes in nine different colors, sizes "S" to "3XL". Call now. Operators are standing by.

-AK

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