Thursday, 14 January 2010

An end to panda bashing, for now

Chris Packham, the British wildlife presenter who said some silly things about pandas last September (see here), says he’s going to “lay-off panda bashing for a while”.

This comes towards the end of a somewhat laddish interview that appeared yesterday, but then it was in The Sun where a dose of sexism is par for the journalistic course.

This is an extract:

Look when I picked on the panda I never said I wanted it to become extinct. But extinction is a natural process. Without it we can't have new species.

And because of the large number of humans on the planet it may well be that there's just not enough room any more for pandas and other large animals like tigers.

If Packham really believes that unsustainable logging is a natural process, then fine. But this strikes me as rather silly. Yes humans are animals – so will ultimately be subject to the forces of natural selection like everything else – but we are rather unusual in our ability to influence the planet, both for good and for bad. Does he really think that humans are not smart enough to find a way to make space for both our own species and others? Come on, Packham. You’re a clever guy. Or are you?

The most recent genetic analysis of current panda populations reveals surprisingly high levels of genetic variation and evidence of population decline in parallel with the expansion of human populations across what we now call China. “These data suggest that the panda is not a species at an evolutionary ‘‘dead end,’’ but in common with other large carnivores, has suffered demographically at the hands of human pressure,” wrote Wei Fuwen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues in 2007.

Concluding his latest piece on pandas, Packham says:

A lot of experts didn't agree on what I said, but appreciated the fact I put my head above the parapet to open a debate we need to have.

Can anyone enlighten me about what debate he is supposed to have stimulated? Mr Packham?

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