Throughout this book, we have demonstrated the significant accomplishments and new knowledge in giant panda biology that have occurred in a few short years. These have been driven, in part, by scientific curiosity and available resources, mostly provided by zoos. Beyond the scholarship have been the tangibles, including a growing and healthier ex situ panda population. Most important has been the open sharing of information and expertise always directed towards the highest priority of Chinese authorities - in-country conservation capacity. In short, it is impossible to do too much training. While we may have a dream of training ourselves 'right out of a job', this is not achievable because the magnitude of the need in all regions (not just China) is too great. Thus a high priority is determining how to develop capacity-building programmes that are bigger, stronger and financially self-sustaining.
One cannot dismiss the impressive progress being made by USA zoos as part of, or as supplements to, their giant panda loan arrangements. For organisations planning to secure giant pandas for exhibit, it is imperative to plan, carry out and financially contribute to capacity building in areas identified as the highest priorities by Chinese partners. These cannot be efforts exclusively directed at ex situ facilities because we must always focus first on what is best for giant pandas in situ. Additionally, for USA zoos, panda loans are inextricably linked to conservation enhancement in the field. We also realise that not all zoos, including those with an interest in giant panda loans, have research staff capable of providing field training. In this case it is imperative that they subcontract such activities to organisations that do have such abilities, thereby building capacity through sponsorship.
Interestingly, although many research projects described in this book emanated from partnerships involving multiple USA zoos working together, most training was conducted by zoos working individually. This should, and is likely to, change because USA zoos are cooperating more closely now through the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation (under the umbrella of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association or AZA) and the AZA's Species Survival Plan (SSP). For example, the Giant Panda SSP programme now meets annually for several days with managers and scientists to discuss common interests, including planned activities in China. High on the agenda is how the respective holding institutions can work together more strategically and more effectively to share resources in the face of what seems to be ever-decreasing revenue, including what can be contributed to China programmes. Contrary to what might be expected, giant panda loans are not good business for USA zoos. US Fish and Wildlife Service policy prevents giant panda loans from being commercially beneficial. In 2004, the four USA zoos maintaining giant pandas collectively reported a net loss of more than $2 million annually (Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, 2004). This then generates a critical question: even though panda conservation 'wins', are such fiscal losses sustainable?
Interestingly, the answer is not necessarily connected to how much funding is needed by the Chinese authorities to ensure giant panda protection. This is because accessible monies from loans already outstrip available capacity to plan and implement conservation initiatives. Thus, this is yet more weighty justification for continuous capacity building to allow the effective spending of loan-producing dollars. An equally important priority is how zoos can work more effectively with Chinese authorities and (in the case of the USA) the US Fish and Wildlife Service to utilise loan dollars better and more rapidly . This requires the more rapid identification of in situ priorities on the part of
Chinese authorities and quicker assessment and/or approval of project lists by the Service. Since USA holding zoos have significant experience in scientific grant preparation and recognising quality proposals, these organisations should be used, whenever possible, to accelerate project selection and monitor project progress.
Meanwhile, zoos certainly have demonstrated their ability to support in situ conservation. However, there is a danger in assuming that these organisations can sustain such a financial burden. For this reason, there is wisdom in continuously seeking a reasonable balance between panda loan costs for zoos (which indeed are businesses), what can actually be done in China and making the entire process coordinated and self-sustaining. The latter certainly is achievable given that more zoos decide to become involved, especially with mitigated loan expenses. A few years ago when giant panda breeding was less reliable, the idea of more zoos extracting giant pandas from China for exhibits could have been objectionable. However, given the growth of the ex situ population, it is logical to believe that sufficient animals will be available for money-raising loan programmes, especially if the animals remain part of the worldwide genetic management activities (see Chapter 21). Such responsibilities should not be exclusive to North America but should be applicable to other zoos outside China. As outlined by Zhang et al. (in Chapter 19), there have been growing numbers of giant pandas moving to zoological parks in Europe and Asia, and each programme should contribute to species conservation in nature.
As they work within and outside China to better identify how to best use scarce resources, zoos will need the attention and cooperation of wildlife authorities. Zhang et al. (Chapter 19) and Ballou et al. (Chapter 21) have provided excellent within-China examples, for instance the need to facilitate the building of a centralised wildlife infectious disease laboratory and ensuring compliance with mating recommendations by assisting in the transfer of living animals or germ plasm (thereby avoid population inbreeding). In the USA, zoos could benefit by the US Fish and Wildlife Service being more flexible in its definition of what is considered 'in situ enhancement'. Under current policy interpretation, most activities associated with the ex situ programmes are not considered enhancement. Clearly, the biological data and the numerous in situ-related spin-offs made throughout this book (as well as depicted in Tables 22.1 and 22.2) would disagree. Rather, we see one worldwide population of giant pandas - some of which live in nature and some in captivity - but all of which are linked through their biological and conservation value and irreplaceable species distinctiveness.
Finally, the giant panda is receiving this massive attention because of worldwide interest in it as a unique emblem of our planet's fragile biodiversity. The collective studies and stories in this book, we believe, give it status as a model - a flagship - for how people can work together scientifically across diverse cultures to learn and problem-solve together. We admit that the giant panda is something of an exceptional case; its high profile and the pressures within China to succeed certainly eased the way for our progress. We would expect it to be far more challenging to stimulate as much enthusiasm for less compelling species, many of which are as threatened or even more ecologically important than the giant panda. Therefore, our personal priority is to promote and, whenever possible, use this paradigm to ensure the continued scientific investigation of any number of the world's many threatened wildlife species, most of which now have not been as thoroughly studied as the giant panda. Regardless, partnerships and interdisciplinary studies are key to gathering the kinds of information needed to make wise and informed conservation management decisions.
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