Friday, 9 August 2013

In Sympathy with Tian Tian.

                                              Portrait of Bundles of  Panda Joy by National Geographic

I have to stop reading the news. It's all getting too much, emotionally, when one had barely recovered from the tension and excitement of that Other Birth.
Now I learn that Tian Tian, the Giant Panda up there in Edinburgh (rented out from the Chinese Government), may be pregnant.
She is moody, off her food, and won't cooperate about having a scan.

Well, fair enough.
Many of us will be able to recall the nausea, the tiredness, the mood swings, but few of us will have had to face the indignities suffered by Tian Tian.
Public artificial insemination by different donors, endless speculation about our partner's abilities, doubts about our own capabilities. People are already questioning her mothering skills, and foster parents are lined up before pregnancy is confirmed.And if she does give birth her offspring will belong to the People's Republic of China and will be returned there at the age of two.
I wouldn't co-operate either.
But there is huge money in panda production.

If Giant Pandas find it so uncongenial to reproduce that they can't or won't, perhaps we should try to see things from their viewpoint?
Are they telling us that they don't want to be in zoos? Could it be as simple as that?
Do they reproduce when left well alone, free-range in their bamboo forests?
Or are they telling us that they have had enough of the whole business, and if people want pandas they are going to have to engineer them for themselves?
A friend who has recently visited captive baby pandas in China tells me that in order to obtain the necessary ingredients for artificial insemination the panda keepers have to fire up the prospective fathers by showing them Panda Porn, because male pandas basically can't be bothered.

Tian Tian and her partner, Yang Guang have been together for two years and had two attempts at mating, but their hearts were not in it. They obviously just don't care, either for each other or for the whole idea of sex and parenthood. And looking at the outcome of a panda pregnancy in the first few weeks - would you?
Admittedly the birth may be comparatively easy - Tian Tian might not even notice, but an new-born panda does not tug at the heart strings in the way that some other tiny animals may.
Infant pandas, as opposed to new-borns, are the toy-makers' dream, cuteness personified, but they clearly do not create the same sort of enthusiasms in their parents.

Why is it all so unattractive for them?
Surely  pandas are trying to tell us something?

Meanwhile, back at the zoo, one of the pandas' keepers feels that, 'it's all just going to explode'.
Poor Tian Tian.


marigold jam said...

Anmyone who has ever had a baby will sympathise with Tian Tian - it's not always what it's cracked up to be is it?! And to go through all that rigmarole only to have one's infant taken away and sent to China well I must admit I am with Tian Tian on this one!!

Beth said...

Ah yes, I'm with you. Poor Tian-Tian. I've visited the pandas in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., and frankly it seemed like a fairly dismal life, even if they are given all the bamboo they can eat.

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold and Beth: thank you for your comments. I realise the importance of saving creatures from extinction, but when the creatures themselves seem to be selecting that option where do our responsibilities lie? There is more to life than unlimited bamboo.

Elephant's Child said...

I am torn over this whole issue. I really, really don't want to lose more species to extinction. Yet some of those we save will only have a life in captivity. Which I suspect is an existence rather than a life. I really don't know the answer. I wish I did.

Zhoen said...

While I recognize that many people really love children, and want to have them, I've never understood the impulse at all. While I would never harm a child, would go to great lengths to protect any small person, they unnerve me. Some instinct clearly missing in this one.

Maybe the pandas need the wild breezes blowing through the bamboo to get in the mood, and a swinging party with lots of pandas to choose from.

Relatively Retiring said...

E.C: I am in full agreement with you. It's the sort of moral dilemma people should not have to face, and also the sort of moral dilemma that has been created by people.

Zhoen: How wise to recognise yourself so well. The world would be a better place is others shared your realism.
You and Tian Tian would have much to discuss - especially the idea of the wild breezes in the bamboo and the swinging panda party!

Jee said...

I sympathise with poor TianTian. Anyone and everyone seems to think they have a perfect right to comment on other people's choices when it does comes to having a family. I was constantly grilled by perfect strangers because we only have one child. That was not actually a choice and the loss of others before and after her birth including a stillbirth was not something I cared to discuss with complete strangers. It would be sad to lose the Panda but although we are so much to blame in many ways, they do seem to evolved into an indifference with they're own survival which we should perhaps respect

Friko said...

I remember the feeling too well.

Do pandas turn their backs on each other?

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee; it is very sad that some people are insensitive to such personal issues. Perhaps the pandas feel equally violated.

Friko: thank you for commenting. It seems that pandas are turning their backs on a lot of things, doesn't it?

Julia said...

Twenty-five years ago today I gave birth to my daughter. Her conception was almost as complicated as that of a baby panda, though thankfully less public. I sympathise with the pandas. I say, leave them in peace to decide their own fate...

Relatively Retiring said...

Julia: very happy birthday to your daughter. We have interfered so much with creatures and their habitats it seems impossible to know where responsibility for their survival begins and ends.
I'm glad you had more privacy than Tian Tian.

Gillie said...

Like many of you I don't know the answer, but I hate hearing the phrase - there is money in panda production - yikes!

We seem to be at the point where we feel we can ask any question of anybody on any subject, the more personal the better it seems to me, re Jee's comment and all the in depth reporting on The Other Birth, most of it pure speculation.

Sorry, got off the panda subject a little, am assuming Tian Tian isn't being grilled by the media!

Relatively Retiring said...

Gillie: thank you for your comment. I'm sure poor Tian Tian is being invaded by all sorts of people. I'm sure you are right about privacy issues. The one remaining taboo seems to be about death.

Jenny Woolf said...

I suppose they must reproduce in the wild since they are still here! I suppose it must be a puzzle for zoologists, since it must be pretty hard to observe them in the wild, because they are so endangered there are hardly any. Sometimes it can be little things that affect wild creatures.

Well, the answer to this (as you can tell) is that I don't really know. But I sure don't blame Tian Tian for not wanting to cooperate!

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny: there are no straight-forward solutions to any of these problems. We have just meddled too much in so many creatures' lives. I grow a lot of bamboo in my garden. Tian Tian is welcome any time, pregnant or not!

Molly said...

I am still here! My email is If you can send me an email perhaps we could still arrange to meet? Are you in Oxford? I never suspected you might be nearby....

Isabelle said...

Well, yes, but I don't want pandas to die out. (My daughter Laura once had a boyfriend who said we should just let them die - survival of the fittest and all that. I never liked him much, however...)

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: I think it is a sort of moral dilemma, when creatures can only be re-created under such artificial conditions - but on the positive side, perhaps your grandchildren will be able to see baby pandas in your local zoo!