Another lovely wee guest post today, from John Nichol, aka @cowrin, who blogs at Suitably Despairing.

A panda at Holyrood yesterday

In a few weeks time, Edinburgh Zoo will take delivery of a couple of Giant Pandas, a gift from China. Actually, they’re not a gift, they’re a loan, bestowed by the country on any other nation which tickles it’s fancy. And to get them, Britain has done an awful lot of fancy-tickling.

There’s something faintly queasy about China’s use of this sad creature as a diplomatic tool. Not only do they demand that the country receiving the “gift” bends over backwards to please the Chinese, but they then have to pay China $1 million a year for the privilege of keeping the pandas for a maximum of ten years.

No animal should be used as a commodity in this way, bestowing favours on countries that please you, and I’m ashamed that Scotland and the UK is a party to this. It feels even worse when the poor creature being transported halfway around the planet is so endangered.

It was Chris Packham of Springwatch fame (and, to those of us of a certain age, Really Wild Show fame) who suggested a couple of years ago that we should let Giant Pandas die out. They’re an evolutionary dead-end, a picky eater which barely moves and barely mates. I have some sympathy with the idea that we’re only throwing money at the Panda because they look damn cute. After all, other species have come and gone without us giving much of a damn. But I also feel that if we have the means to save a species then we should.

What we shouldn’t be doing is saving a species just to use it as a diplomatic tool. Pandas are not trophies, to be paraded around to the citizens while the First Minister gushes about how much China really, really likes us. Animals that aren’t part of our food system should not be trade-able commodities between countries, to be exploited by politicians as some sort of coup that the creatures are in the country in the first place, or to be used to curry favour with previous enemies. If you really want to bestow gifts on a foreign country, then give them a statue.

Whether zoos themselves should exist or not is a whole other topic, but needless to say Edinburgh Zoo will not be shy about commercially exploiting their new residents, just another way that the pandas will be used for the benefit of others and not themselves.

It’s too late to stop the pandas from coming to this country, but I would urge the Scottish Government to have nothing to do with this shameful modern-day trophy-hunting.