(Free Malaysia Today) - Many factors stand in the way of the survival of a menagerie of Bornean wildlife species, but Putrajaya has RM20 million to burn on two giant pandas from China.
Malaysians will soon be able to see the endangered giant panda up close and personal. Putrajaya will be home to two of the instantly recognisable cuddly black and white bears for 10 years.
They will live, quite literally, in the lap of luxury and comfort with round-the-clock room service. And if all goes well, the pandas will witness Malaysia join the ranks of “developed” nations in 2020 and then returned to China.
Ironically, here in Sabah, conservationists are fighting an uphill battle to protect and bring the Borneo rhinoceros back from the edge of extinction.
Less than 30 specimens are left alive on the planet. A handful has been caught in a last-ditch effort to breed them.
The rest have never been seen and the prognosis is not good.
They are not the only animals in Sabah on the list of endangered species like the giant panda which is endemic in China and is estimated to number only 1,600.
Lack of funding, inadequate laws, indiscriminate deforestation and economic interests are slowly but surely strangling the menagerie of Bornean species, some, like the rhinoceros, found only in Sabah.
Among the well-known is the unique Bornean “pygmy” elephant and the orangutan.
At least one conservationist here is bemused by the hoopla generated by the giant panda deal announced by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry this week.
Raymond Alfred, an expert who has been working in wildlife conservation in Borneo for 12 years said: “In my opinion, the plan to host two baby pandas in Malaysia needs further consideration.
“The government needs to consider the plan properly, since it is very costly and risky, while at the same time the conservation of our rhinoceros, orangutan and elephant needs more attention.”
Any ‘long-term planning’?
Alfred told FMT that he had doubts over whether any “proper long-term planning” had been done to justify the cost of upkeeping the two baby giant pandas.
Many suspect the deal has nothing to do with conservation and all to do with political posturing,
It is normally understood that giant pandas on loan to a foreign country comes with a fee, depending on the agreement between the two countries.
According to reports, the “deal” would require Malaysia to take care of the pandas for 10 years for a reported cost of RM20 million.
The RM20 million costs reported by the media soon after Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Nanning, China, last April is expected to cover the cost of construction of an air-conditioned sanctuary for the pandas, importing bamboos from China for their meals as well to train local handlers.
Alfred said that if the ultimate aim of the panda programme in Malaysia is to raise awareness and funding for the endangered Borneo rhino, elephant and orangutan, then it was worth the expense.
“But a lot of issues have to be considered… such as the suitability of the Malaysian weather, availability of food for the pandas and, most importantly, how we [Malaysia] can play a role in supporting the conservation of these pandas,” he said.
He fears that wildlife conservation policies in Malaysia are wide off the mark and warned that continued delays in protecting the country’s dwindling virgin rainforests would doom the unique species found in it to extinction.