Giant pandas are an endangered species. Due to extensive habitat loss and the destruction of bamboo, the panda’s sole food source, giant pandas can only be found in about 20 patches of forest in a densely populated area of China. With their numbers dwindling, the survival of the panda now relies on breeding programs, spread all over the world.
Getting pandas to breed is difficult and keeping their babies alive requires a huge effort from dedicated professionals.
The fact that captive breeding programs will probably never succeed in reintroducing enough pandas back into the wild and restoring wild populations to stable levels, some, like wildlife expert Chris Packham argue that perhaps pandas, “totemic symbols of cuteness”, should be allowed to become extinct . Packham urges us to stop toying with single-species conservation and begin to focus instead on more pressing political conservation issues. Implementing unglamorous policy changes in agriculture for instance as well as toughening our stance against the trade in ivory, rhino horn and tiger bone, he claims, could do substantial good.
Many conservationists as well as the WWF disagree, debunking the theory of the panda as the evolutionary cul-de-sac, emphasizing that the long-term survival of pandas in the wild depends on the conservation of their ecosystem and that preserving their habitat to protect them has knock-on benefits for other species.
From the fluffy giant panda to the fluffy giant Boris Johnson is but a small step. And here too conservation is at stake.
In his sharp and passionate plea to “save Palmyra or the maniacs (Isil) will raze civilisation”, published in the Telegraph this week, Boris Johnson appeals “on behalf of a bunch of ruins”, remnants of an ancient city and UN world heritage site, epitome of the very idea of our Western civilisation and what we stand for. Boris Johnson suggests some kind of exclusion zone around the site and wishes to mobilize his countrymen to stand behind him, calling for resistance and action against Isil’s blatant disregard for legacy, learning and humanity.
We are all familiar with the List of World Heritage Sites. We are less familiar with the List of World Heritage in Danger, “designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action”.
The World Heritage Committee has decided to include 46 properties, cultural and natural, on the List of World Heritage in Danger. 46 properties, from Congo to Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Uganda, Bolivia, Yemen Ethiopia, ….
So no, Mr Johnson, you do not stand alone.
But how do we implement your cri de coeur? And should we?
At the onset of WW2, Rembrandt’s Night Watch was detached from its frame and rolled around a cylinder and stored outside of Amsterdam at Radboud Castle before being moved to a bunker in the dunes near Castricum.
The Ghent Altarpiece, Het Lam Gods meanwhile was hidden in a salt mine.
When, also during WW2, the British officer Tony Clarke rescued “The Resurrection”, a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, from artillery fire by refusing to shell the town of Sansepolcro where the painting was housed, he took a brave albeit risky decision and saved the masterpiece for posterity.
“The Resurrection” is now being restored.
The artefacts at the Taiwan National Palace Museum, whether considered stolen or safeguarded by the KMT, are still intact and with cultural relations between the PRC and the ROC now slightly warmed, a lending program is underway with both countries agreeing that artefacts in both mainland and Taiwan museums are “China’s cultural heritage jointly owned by people across the Taiwan Strait”.
Boris Johnson is right. Isil kills and destroys. The ancient city of Nimrud, one of Iraq’s greatest archaeological treasures has been vandalized.
Mosul’s central library has been ransacked resulting in what the head of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) called “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”
Some may argue that saving cities, libraries and art collections means nothing seeing we cannot/will not save the lives of thousands of human beings, trapped in the obscenity of war.
Why save the bamboo and not the panda?
But pandas are not humans and bamboo forests are not cultural sites.
Agree with Boris Johnson, disagree with him. But somehow we are going to have to question our position. Save people’s lives, save their culture, save their bricks and mortar? Or stand by and do nothing?
Why Palmyra? Why now? Because if we don’t do it there and now, where and when will we do it?