I don’t think we should actively hunt pandas for sport, and I’m perfectly fine with feeding them at zoos and protecting them from communists. But within the field of endangered species I think we should admit that the dwindling number of wild pandas is at least partially their own fault. Pandas are an evolutionary dead end.
I’m pretty sure pandas would be declining without our intervention by now even if Bill Gates bought half of China and converted it into a bamboo plantation for them. The singular evolutionary advantage which pandas seem to have at their disposal is the ability to endear themselves to humans. For this I applaud them: pandas are good at picking winners.
Other than “cuteness,” however, pandas are the evolutionary equivalent of a sixth-year high school senior. I’m not surprised they’re declining.
Let’s consider some key facts about pandas:
Pandas are designed to be carnivores. They have carnivorous digestive systems and they’re taxonomically classified as carnivores. They have ursine (bear) teeth, and when they run out of bamboo will resort to eating meat, fish and eggs. Yet they eat bamboo anyway. A plant virtually devoid of energy or protein nutrients. Bamboo is so nutritionally useless that they have to eat it constantly, otherwise they would presumably slip into adorable starvation comas.
2. Pandas are lazy.
Pandas imbibe so little energy from eating bamboo that it affects their behavior, to the point that they socialize comparatively little and literally avoid walking up or down hills. They mostly just sit around, listlessly, thinking about bamboo.
3. Pandas are constantly pooping.
Pandas consume up to thirty pounds of bamboo shoots and leaves a day, with the logical result that they also poop on average forty times a day. Maybe instead of crapping themselves blind they should do something productive like grow bigger fangs, or set up mutual funds.
A major part of every successful species is being horny. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to our own species’ obsession with cronking, but it was an absolute necessity for our hominid ancestors, as with all critters. If you aren’t making babies your numbers dwindle and you go extinct. Make babies!
Not pandas, though. Unsurprisingly, these slothful bears have little interest in mating with each other. Their pitiful libido has been so frustrating to zoo keepers that scientists have done everything from showing them pornographic panda videos, to giving doses of Viagra to males. All for naught.
Pandas are only vaguely interested in mating in the wild, and totally apathetic about it in captivity. Basically every few years if pandas run out of good TV shows to watch they will reluctantly agree to slow, boring humping as a sort of temporary diversion. If by some stroke of luck this lackluster romp results in fertilization, pregnancy is so minimal on panda physiology that often-times the female has no idea she’s pregnant. She might birth the cub unknowingly, then roll over and crush it while sleeping. In fact “crushing” is a perennial problem of the panda world– in 2006 a panda mother fell asleep on top of her cub, crushing it to death.
Most panda pregnancies result in twins. Even if the pandas don’t inadvertently sit on the newborns or drive off with them sitting on the trunk of their car, in the wild they will let one of the pair die anyway. They pick the strongest-looking twin and keep feeding it, and the other twin expires.
What’s to be Done?
Yes, we should expand panda biomes. And if someone wants to pony up the cash, I will personally fly over the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary and toss Viagra pills out of my chopper like I’m throwing candy corn in a street parade. And there’s probably still a lot we don’t know about the finer plot and character development necessary to make believable, enticing panda porn.
But I’ve got an even better idea. Do you know what animal we’re not worried about? Labrador retrievers. Dogs are cute as well, and we’ve bred them to be docile and perform tricks for our amusement. (Technically so have cats, but I don’t particularly care for cats.)
So this is my proposal: let’s create a new subspecies using the unwanted panda twins. Rather than letting the runt twin linger and die, we should send in the zoologist equivalents of the Green Beret to scoop up the neglected panda cubs as soon as they’re denied milk. Then we fly them to Taiwan to let proper free market Chinese scientists tinker with their genomes until we make a new house pet.
Since pandas are lazy and poop all the time, I don’t think there’s much of a chance that we could make guard pandas. And while I would certainly pay to watch panda racing, it’s a functional non-starter because pandas are the fat kids of the bear universe and it would be difficult to compel them to chase bamboo.
My proposal is that we figure out how to potty train them, then develop “house pandas.” House pandas would be vastly superior to “house cats,” in that they are both cuter and also judge me less. Since they weigh over two hundred pounds and dislike moving, we could probably teach them to act as cuddly, self-warming bean bags.
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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.