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The Benefits of Biophilia

The Giant Panda is one of the most well-known species globally, and it's time to say goodbye to them at Edinburgh Zoo. Cerys Deakin reports on the 10 year stay of two Giant Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, and how the zoo has used Biophilia, a bias for charismatic species, for good.


Giant Panda Yang Guang feeding on bamboo at the Edinburgh Zoo. Image Credit: YU-bin on Flickr.


As the year comes to a close we are preparing to say goodbye to our visitors from southeast Asia! The famous guests, known as Yang Guang and Tian Tian, have been residents at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011 when they travelled over from China, as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This loan cost the zoo approximately £750,000 annually! Despite this high price, these guests have become very well-known and have certainly increased publicity for the zoo during their stay.


Representatives from Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, signing a treaty to agree on the protection of the Giant Panda. Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth office via Wikipedia Commons.


Making connections with nature has become something that is highly valued by humans. The biophilia hypothesis proposes that humans have an innate desire to create and develop connections with nature and wildlife. This desire is something that has evolved over time and illustrates how humans have placed high cultural and social values on the environment and the wildlife within it. Biophilia can be regarded as a bias towards certain charismatic species or environments. Therefore, there has been the formation of arguments against using biophilia for conservation. These arguments generally focus on the lack of representation for wider ranges of species, in that people tend to focus on species that are more well-known or charismatic.


The Giant Panda is definitely a species that is regarded as being charismatic, and is very well known for their cuddly and lazy behaviours, often leaving them to be found sleeping in odd positions or falling over their own feet!


The greatest challenges that the Pandas face, that makes them most vulnerable, are actually anthropogenic (human) activities. Therefore, it can be argued, it is the responsibility of humans to save these bears! WWF has been working to implement protected areas and bamboo corridors, as a small example of how human organisations and efforts are working towards the rehabilitation and conservation of the species.


Example of the lazy behaviours expressed by the Giant Panda species. Left image: Colin Guan via Pixabay; Right image: Shanghaistoneman via Pixabay.


Whilst Edinburgh Zoo does not include their iconic pandas in their logo, they have acknowledged the benefits of housing the species at the zoo, for the publicity and funding of their establishment. The zoo states that there is an important value placed on charismatic animals, such as the Giant Pandas, which encourages attraction and engagement with humans. In turn, this raises awareness for the species and encourages their conservation. The zoo has stated that since the pandas were first housed there, their IUCN status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. This demonstrates a huge conservation success for the species, which has been supported by the efforts of places like Edinburgh Zoo. Alongside raising awareness for the Giant Panda species, the increased publicity for the Zoo and the increased funds generated, also indirectly benefit the other species and conservation efforts at the Zoo.


One of the Giant Pandas housed at Edinburgh Zoo. Image Credit: Adam Harangozó via Wikipedia Commons.


Therefore, whilst there are some arguments for why biophilia is negative, Edinburgh Zoo offers a good example of how using biophilia can be beneficial in wider conservation aims and solutions. Yang Guang and Tian Tian are scheduled to head home to China in early December after their long stay at Edinburgh Zoo, the pair will be greatly missed by all zoo staff and visitors! Efforts like these, alongside the efforts of organisations such as WWF are vital in the rehabilitation of wild and captive populations of the Giant Panda.

About the Author: Cerys Deakin is a third year Zoologist at the University of Exeter, with a passion for conservation. She hopes to begin her career in the zoological industry and even one day hopes to work alongside Edinburgh Zoo in future conservation efforts. She also has a huge interest in animal and wildlife photography that fits in well with her studies. You can find more about her on her LinkedIn page or check out her Instagram at @cerys.hermione.photography.

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