I don’t care much for zoos, too many cramped giraffes and listless apes. They’re fantastic for sparking in children a love of wild animals, certainly. Our windswept days at Whipsnade led me, 20 years later, to track chimpanzees through rainforest on the Uganda-Congo border. We followed the troop all day through choked undergrowth, watched the gamut of monkey business, then saw brave adolescents frighten off a six-metre-long rock python, after the alpha male had fled, whimpering.
Once you’ve been fortunate enough to see creatures in their natural home it’s difficult to go back to watching them cower behind a concrete trench, as people hammer their palms on the glass. For some species, though, such as pandas, there is little alternative – short of letting them go extinct, an argument articulated by Chris Packham. The panda is doomed megafauna, he says, and extremely expensive to keep propping up, despite its emotional pull.
Edinburgh Zoo is paying £600,000 a year to rent pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang from China. Visitors to the zoo have doubled, and now they have good news: in what will become 2013’s real pregnancy saga, Tian Tian may well be with-cub. In a modern twist, the various attempts to artificially inseminate her mean that any child must undergo a paternity test, before being spirited off to China, which will own the animal.
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