It costs about RM4 million a year to feed the animals at the Taiping Zoo. With rising expenses, the 14.4ha zoo is seeking contributions to cover the expenses of animal feed.
Established in 1961, the zoo has 1,300 animals from 140 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. This makes its upkeep costs increasingly challenging. It introduced an adoption programme in 1994 to get sponsors to cover the cost of animal feed. It received between 600,000 and 700,000 visitors last year.
The pandas in Zoo Negara in Kuala Lumpur are housed in a 1.6ha air-conditioned complex. The monthly maintenance cost of the pandas is around RM60,000. The yearly cost amounts to RM720,000.
On top of that, the zoo needs to pay a one-off rental cost amounting to US$600,000 (RM2.4 million) for the pandas, which does not include its annual insurance premium of RM200,000. That is a huge sum to maintain two pandas compared with 1,300 animals in the Taiping Zoo.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment also spent almost RM400,000 to train eight veterinary officers in preparation for the arrival of two pandas from China.
Zoos in other parts of the world are also facing difficulties in meeting the costs of maintaining pandas. Some are facing possible financial ruins.
Malaysian Zoological Society president Datuk Seri Zaharin Md Arif said Zoo Negara has no plans to extend the period to keep Nuan Nuan, due to the high maintenance cost. All the expenses are borne by the zoo.
Pandas are the most expensive animal in the world to keep. Due to their appearance, they are adored and are easily recognisable. They are considered as global icons forconservation and ambassadors for all threatened species.
Malaysian received the panda couple, previously named Fu Wa and Feng Yi on May 21, 2014, to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China. A cub, Nuan Nuan, was born on Aug 18, last year.
These make the pandas more than zoo exhibits, which is why those who objected to spending so much on them were criticised for putting money before an invaluable investment for animal conservation and diplomatic ties between the two countries.
But this doesn’t mean we stopped being prudent about where the money is spent. A comparison of the amounts spent on the pandas and all the animals in Taiping Zoo shows how disproportionate the cost per animal is.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S M Mohd Idris is right in pointing out that the money could be channelled to better use. He says: “The expense of captive breeding pandas raises a serious question of whether this one species is really worth all that money that could be better spent on our megafauna – large animals – such as elephants, tigers and rhinos?
“Malaysia is facing an ugly situation whereby these animals are worth more dead than alive in the places they live and conservation is not pursuing new avenues of thought on how to better protect them. On this account they are all staring extinction in the face.”
“For all the cash spent on pandas we could protect a lot more species over a range of habitats including the upgrade of equipment, staffing and strategies in the fight against sophisticated smugglers who employ the latest technology to deceive (wildlife protection) officers.”
The panda diplomacy programme has shifted from protecting pandas in the wild to attracting paying customers in zoos and boost the tourism dollars. In addition pandas have become political and profitable bartering tools, he says.
Opinions will be divided on this, but we cannot ignore the need to be more prudent in how we spend our money.