Save the Pandas: Who Decides?

November 20th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

Do we have a responsibility to keep endangered species alive? Or is extinction a part of evolution?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

We saved the whales and brought back the bald eagle. But are we pandering to pandas, instead of letting them go extinct? 

A British wildlife expert has touched off a passionate debate about man’s responsibility to beast by declaring that the time has come to “pull the plug” on pandas. Saying that “extinction is very much a part of life on earth," naturalist Chris Packham reasoned that the millions of dollars spent annually on an endangered species that is “extraordinarily expensive to keep going,” might be better spent conserving endangered habitats. If we “just bought rainforest,” Packham said, “we might be doing a better job.” 

Pandas--the cute, charismatic poster-bears of conservation fundraising—are indigenous to China, where they require enormous amounts of bamboo for sustenance. Now thought to number only 1,600, the notoriously fickle breeders' native habitat continues to shrink as China’s human population continues to expand.

“I’m not trying to play God,” Packham said. “I’m playing God’s accountant. I’m saying we won’t be able to save it all, so let’s do the best we can.” 

His remarks created panda-monium. “It’s a daft thing…to say, and an irresponsible one,” declared a fellow conservationist. “How about we pull the plug on the conservationists!” one person responded online. “Use the money we are paying them to take care of the pandas.” Said another, “I’m not ready to give up on the panda…We put ourselves in a position where we can pretend to be God, and I don’t think we’re up to the task.” 

Tell us what you think: Do we have a responsibility to keep all endangered species alive at any cost? If not, who chooses which survive and which do not? Should the panda be allowed to become extinct?