In a world where there is so much human suffering – the doubly-dispossessed refugees of the Calais "jungle" being but one example – it is no wonder that some complain about the time and money spent on conserving rare animals. The panda is a particular case in point. Even among endangered species, as the BBC nature presenter Chris Packham argued, the panda seems especially undeserving – adored more for its winsome looks than for any claim to viability.
Nature, though, is unfair, and the panda's people-appeal should not be held against it. Whales, dolphins and, yes, as the popular television advert has shown, meerkats, too, seem to speak to something in humans that is beyond logic, whether it is aesthetic or emotional. So let's not gang up on the panda. It is a unique creature, good for the environment and beloved of a billion-plus Chinese. Immediately recognisable, it has served the conservation movement well. Sometimes appearance really is all.