The giant panda – it’s fluffy, chubby, and seemingly has a permanent smile on its face. As the mascot of China and the logo for conservation charity, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the panda is perhaps the most famous endangered animal, and millions of pounds have been spent to protect the bear.
But why are giant pandas endangered? Poaching hasn’t been a threat for our cuddly friends since it became punishable by death in the 1980s. The main reason for the decline of the panda is its own behaviour. Pandas eat only bamboo; they even have a specially adapted thumb to grasp the shoots. Deforestation by humans has led to loss of bamboo habitat, but many scientists believe pandas would be on the way to extinction without human influence, since pandas have not adapted to their changing environments.
This combined with the fact that pandas are very awkward when it comes to breeding – they are only fertile for a few days each year – makes them a very difficult species to save, and raises a controversial question: is the giant panda a lost cause? The bears have been offered protection since the first reserves opened in the early 1960s, but numbers of wild individuals remain around 1500.
Meanwhile, less fluffy animals are suffering too. Frogs worldwide are at an enormous risk from a disease caused by the Chytrid fungus, which affects 30% of amphibian species in the world. Killing a frog isn’t a crime and WWF doesn’t sell cuddly newt toys, but hundreds of species are affected by the disease and in turn so are many other animals, which depend on or are affected by amphibian populations.
Frogs may not make cute bar crawl costumes like pandas but this is hardly the point. Conservation should be about the most ecologically important, and focus where the need is greatest. Maybe it’s time to the spread love elsewhere.