Fri, Sep 06, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Taipei Zoo accused of going overboard for panda cub

By Chiu Shao-wen and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A newborn Formosan black bear snoozes in this undated photograph.

Photo: CNA, courtesy of the Taiwan Black Bear Conservation Association

With the two-month-old panda cub nicknamed Yuan Zai (圓仔) having become the new media darling and drawing lots of public attention, a netizen has accused the Taipei Zoo of creating an “M-shaped” society — a term describing deep inequality — among its creatures and leaving the nation’s Formosan black bears in the cold.

The netizen, who identified herself as Peng Shu-chen (彭淑禎), recently took to Facebook to vent her frustration over what she said was the zoo’s different treatment of pandas and the Formosan black bears, both of which are endangered species.

“While the zoo’s four Formosan black bears have to crowd together in a 165 ping [544.5m2] ‘slum,’ Yuan Zai’s parents, Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓), are given the privilege of living in a 438 ping air-conditioned ‘lavish mansion,’” Peng wrote.

Formosan black bears are much rarer than giant pandas, Peng wrote, adding that while there are about 1,590 wild giant pandas in the world, there are only about 200 wild Formosan black bears.

Yuan Zai, which was born on July 6, is the first giant panda born in Taiwan.

The parents were donated to the zoo by China in late 2008.

Shrugging off the criticism, zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh (趙明杰) said the zoo has never cut back on its efforts to facilitate the preservation of Formosan black bears.

“We have signed a declaration on the preservation and revival of endangered species with 16 animal conservation organizations, while assisting animal experts nationwide in helping the black bears mate and procreate,” he said.

Chao said the exhibition hall housing the three pandas was built using a NT$300 million (US$9.9 million) donation from the Shin Kong Group, adding that the hall might run out of space because the zoo plans to add more giant pandas after the cub grows up.

“It is natural that most of the public attention is being directed at Yuan Zai, since it is the first panda born in this country. Nevertheless, the zoo is endeavoring to introduce more species endemic to Taiwan to the public through the cub,” Chao said.

Chao was referring to a video featuring Yuan Yuan and Yuan Zai that the the zoo released on Friday last week. The video features an imaginary conversation between the pandas about Formosan black bears.

Meanwhile, catering to the public craze for information about Yuan Zai, a free mobile application chronicling the cub’s daily activities has drawn a lot of interest since it was launched on Aug. 20, said the developer, who prefers to be known as “mip.”

It has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, the developer said.

The app provides real-time updates on Yuan Zai, including the latest pictures and articles about the cub and some basic information on pandas, the developer said.

The app has not been approved by Taipei Zoo, but the zoo said it would not take any legal action against the developer at the moment, as the app is not for profit.

It did say, however, that it was considering applying for a trademark for the name “Yuan Zai.”

Additional reporting by CNA

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