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Anti-panda tirade of bat fan slammed
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Who doesn't love pandas?

Apparently, BBC wildlife expert and bat fanatic Chris Packham, that's who.

"I reckon we should pull the plug," Packham told Radio Times magazine in London on Monday.

"Here's a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's big and cute and a symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation."

Packham, who hosts Springwatch, a popular BBC nature show, said money spent trying to save the panda would be better invested in helping other species.

A BBC spokesperson declined to comment, saying Packham's statements were his "personal views".

But the 48-year-old's opinions quickly drew howls of protest from around the world.

"It is a daft thing for Chris to say," said Mark Wright, conservation science advisor with the WWF. "Pandas have adapted to where they live.

"They live in the mountains, where there is plenty of the bamboo they want to eat. It's like saying the blue whale is in an evolutional cul-de-sac because it lives in the ocean. Pandas face extinction because of poaching and humans moving into their habitat. If left alone, then they function perfectly well."

Li Xinhai, a professor at the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said Packham missed the point.

"The distribution of funding for endangered animals could be more balanced," Li said.

"But it is natural to prioritize the panda, whose cuddly image is widely popular among the public. The key is telling the public about other animals worthy of attention."

Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chendgu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province, said Packham seemed misinformed about the panda's ability to reproduce.

"The reproduction capacity of normal wild pandas is very strong, thanks to a better environment and more choices for food and mating partners," Zhang told China Daily.

Zhang said a panda at his base, named Ya Ya, had given birth to 16 cubs.

In 1987, Zhang's research base had six pandas. Today, there are 86.

The total global population of wild pandas, however, is not faring well. There are 1,596, with another 272 living in captivity.

Changes in climate and in the panda's natural environment - largely caused by man - are to blame for its dwindling population said Zhang.

Packham is well known for favoring less cuddly creatures - he is president of the Bat Conservation Trust and has spoken of his love of insects.

"Chris is a great advocate for wildlife and conservation," said Julia Hanmer, CEO of the UK-based bat group.

"He has worked tirelessly to engage people in conservation, particularly for the UK's threatened bat species."

Packham has since apologized for his statements.

He was quoted in yesterday's The Mirror newspaper as saying: "I really upturned the apple cart with what I said and I'm sorry I upset people. But I am glad it has raised a debate and that was always my intention.

"I don't hate pandas, I love cuddly animals. I love all animals."

China Daily tried to reach the presenter for comment. His publicist said he was unavailable because of a television commitment.

(China Daily September 24, 2009)

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