David Thomas: The world's most useless creatures

Pandas are the WAGs of the animal kingdom: superficially attractive, but talentless

Share
Related Topics

Bloody pandas. Tian Tian and Yang Guang have come to Edinburgh and we're supposed to be thrilled and a little bit glowy at the internationally co-operative "ooh aren't they adorable?" mood-enhancing fabulousness of it all. But why? Pandas are useless, antisocial, frankly rather boring animals. Their rise to global triumph, as a symbol of all things furry, is a telling commentary on our obsession with appearance over substance; for saccharine sentimentality over objective reason and for wishful thinking over harsh reality. Essentially, they are the WAGs of the animal kingdom: superficially attractive in an obvious sort of way, but entirely lacking in any genuine accomplishment.

As anything other than marketing tools, pandas are one of evolution's less successful products. Built to be carnivores, they actually subsist on a diet of almost exclusively bamboo. So they are severely under-supplied with the protein, fats and assorted other nutrients a decent steak would provide. Not that they could ever hunt any steak-bearing prey, because they lack the energy to do anything very much except stuff their guts with all the bamboo that isn't doing them any good. They are notoriously rubbish at sex and their physical limitations are so acute that they even avoid steep slopes as just a bit too much of an effort.

That these ridiculous creatures have become the global symbol of wildlife preservation only illustrates the way in which the conservation movement so often appeals to the kitten-cuddling nitwits who pretend to love animals. A shark is an infinitely more impressive creature, perfectly adapted to the task of swimming, killing and eating and far more deserving of preservation. But since it lacks cuteness and since the creatures it eats sometimes include humans, it is oddly absent from animal-charity logos.

Come to think of it, the shark would make a much better symbol for the Chinese government than the panda. For the past half century, the Chinese have exploited the West's baffling weakness for pandas to distract us from the true nature of successive Communist regimes.

All through the brutally repressive years of the Cultural Revolution, Mao was lobbing pandas at Western zoos. Edward Heath, for example, brought Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching back to London following a trip to China in 1974, much as Neville Chamberlain brought a piece of paper back from Munich in 1938. Now we live in an age of undeclared techno-war in which an increasingly wealthy, muscle-flexing China is making massive efforts to steal Western patents, hack into government and corporate computer systems and undermine our cyber defences.

China is arguably a far more dangerous adversary than the Soviet Union ever was. But what do we care? We've got two bloody pandas.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home