Panda diplomacy

Dare I be the only person in Edinburgh who appears less than overjoyed by the arrival of giant pandas in the capital?

Since my children were tiny I have been a member of Edinburgh Zoo. This has not been without significant reservation – partly because of the way the Zoo treats its members and customers compared to, say, the splendid Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick.  It is also partly because of a more general misgiving about a nineteenth century institution having anything much to add to genuine conservation or appreciation of fragile eco-systems.  Who needs a 2pm penguin parade when you have the BBC’s “Frozen Planet”?

Still my misgivings are probably not as deeply-felt as some fellow Greens and for a lot of the last ten years the Zoo has been a great place to meet friends and let the children run about in the various play-parks (which, to be honest, they are more interested in than in the bored-looking animals much of the time).

But I cannot get past panda-fever.  As two giant pandas are due to arrive this Sunday (4 December) it is scarcely possible to find a news outlet not salivating at the photo-opportunities and the endless scope for puns.  But the truth, of course, is that these magnificent creatures are simply pawns in a web of international diplomacy as murky as it ever has been.

The pandas’ arrival is part of a deal with the Chinese Government which also sees a massive increase in the volume of farmed Scottish salmon being exported to China.  And that is, em, good, because it is jobs, right?  Except that farmed salmon brings with it the problem of sea lice in their countless swarms.  While the caged salmon are liberally doused with chemicals to fend the lice off, the wild salmon sharing the same sea lochs as the farmed variety are simply like sitting ducks for the lice.  So the price of a massive increase in farmed salmon is further decimation of our native salmon stocks.  You get the pandas, but you lose the salmon.  And, if the ecological morality alone is not convincing then consider the loss of jobs from the decline of wild salmon fishing.

Still, Scotland has no choice, surely?  Because if we don’t satisfy the Chinese appetite for salmon then our main competitors, Norway, will do it.  Except that the Chinese Government does not much like Norwegian salmon since the pesky Norwegians awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to human rights dissident Liu Xiaobo and, by all accounts, responded by halting the import of Norwegian salmon.  Isn’t it heart-warming to know that Scotland’s First Minister was ready and willing to leap into the trade void?

Forget all the nonsense about the pandas being a gift to Edinburgh and Scotland.  There’s a price to pay and it can be counted in the carcasses of wild salmon and the sullying of Scotland’s commitment to human rights.  So here’s one Zoo member who won’t be toasting the pandas’ arrival this weekend.