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Sun, Dec 03, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Of penguins, pandas and politics

Environmentalists and animal activists say the Taipei City Zoo isn't fulfilling its obligation to promote animal conservation. Rather, it wants to bring in ever more exotic animals to promote tourism in the city

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

"The huge crowds of people are bound to dwindle as the fuss dies down. We encourage visitors to take advantage of the tour guide services and useful literature and posters," Yang said.

The idea of introducing giant pandas to Taipei's zoo is not new. It dates back to the 1980's when the Zoological Society of Taipei (台北市動物之友協會) was formed to provide the zoo with financial support and non-governmental contact with non-diplomatic allies.

The idea was first initiated by the incumbent chairman of the society, Hung Wen-tung (洪文棟), a former legislator, after Hung's visit to a panda house in a Japan zoo, according to Li Te-hsien (李德嫻), secretary-general of the society.

"Back then, the tourism industry had not been liberalized and the Taipei City Zoo had few rare animals to attract visitors. Hung thought that it might not be a bad idea to bring the animals from elsewhere in the world to Taiwan, particularly giant pandas," Li said.

After years of visits and negotiations, Li said, China issued the requisite country-to-country animal export license twice but both were turned down by the Council of Agriculture.

"They didn't give us any specific reason, but it's not hard to figure out," she said, adding that political issues played a significant role.

Just as talk of importing giant pandas seemed to be quieting down, it has recently been brought up again. According to Li, China is still interested in exporting a pair of pandas to Taiwan.

"If it still doesn't work this time, we'll try to import other unique animals such as the golden snub-nosed monkey, Japanese crane and Siberian tiger," Li said.

The organization two years ago signed a treaty with the Zoological Society of China (中國動物園協會), confirming the two organizations as the sole two organizations responsible for coordinating the import and export of rare animals in Taiwan and China, Lin said.

Noah's ark

Despite the educational and social role claimed by the zoo authorities, animal rights groups have expressed strong opposition to the introduction of rare animals from overseas and, indeed, to the very existence of zoos.

"A zoo is not a Noah's ark, it doesn't need to have a comprehensive collection of the world's animals," said Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏), director of the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (動物社會研究會).

Master Wu Hung (悟弘法師), the organization's chairman, agreed.

"A zoo is supposed to play a role in animal education, conservation, and restoration. The zoo not only has done none of these, but also has made itself more and more commercialized and entertainment-oriented," he said, adding that he is in favor of the idea of shutting down all Taiwan's zoos and aquariums.

Taiwan currently has four public zoos and two public aquariums. The four public zoos are located in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Hsinchu, and Nantou. The two public aquariums are located in Pintung and the offshore island of Penghu.

More efforts, Wu Hung said, should be put into the conservation and breeding of animals that are unique to Taiwan.

"Remember Taipei City Zoo is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Education, not some tourism or business department," he said. "Animals should not be treated as commodities nor used as a tool for any political purposes. Peace across the Taiwan Strait can only be reached through mutual understanding and respect."

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