Pandas cost too much

The NY Times has an article about the licensing fees that zoos pay to China to keep giant pandas in the country.

But the real sticker shock comes from the annual fees that Zoo Atlanta and three other American zoos must pay the Chinese government, $2 million a year, essentially to rent a pair of pandas.
The financial headache caused by the costly loan obligations has driven Dennis W. Kelly, chief executive of Zoo Atlanta, to join with the directors of the three other United States zoos -- in Washington, San Diego and Memphis -- that exhibit pandas to negotiate some budgetary breathing room. If no agreement with China can be made, Mr. Kelly said, the zoos may have to return their star attractions.
"If we can't renegotiate, they absolutely will go back," Mr. Kelly said. "Unless there are significant renegotiations, you'll see far fewer pandas in the United States at the end of this current agreement."

YESSSS! At last there is hope! I am so tired of having to hear about it every time a panda ovulates in this country!

Count me out of this number:

[V]isitors flock to see them, and when they cannot make it through the gates, self-described pandaholics blog with doe-eyed ardor about the bears.

Give me a break! "Doe-eyed ardor" for pandas? Personally, I find red pandas much more interesting than giants, and there are a lot of species I would rather see.

Now, I don't have any ill will toward the pandas -- protecting their habitat is really vital, and they are good mascots for conservation. But this panda madness is insane.

First of all, they're just not that smart -- other kinds of bears are much more entertaining.

Second, they don't respond well to captivity. If it didn't screw up their behavior so much, they wouldn't have so much trouble breeding. I say, leave the poor animals in the wild, and give them some more room to live.

Third, they are sucking the oxygen out of conserving every other kind of animal. The article gives the total value of the contracts to the Chinese government as $80 million. Think about the protection that might provide to other species.

It seems to me that each of these zoos should devote its attentions to a different charismatic species, and drive an education and public interest effort around that. I mean, most of the publicity around these pandas is zoo-driven -- why else do they issue a press release after every failed breeding attempt?

And they're intrinsically expensive:

A curator, three full-time keepers and one backup keeper care for Lun Lun and Yang Yang at Zoo Atlanta. A six-person crew travels around the state six days a week, harvesting bamboo from 400 volunteers who grow it in their backyards. (Zoo Atlanta tried growing its own on a farm, as the Memphis Zoo does, but Lun Lun and Yang Yang turned up their noses.)
"It's crazy," Mr. Kelly says. "These bears, year-round, are some of the most pampered animals on the planet. We measure everything that goes in. We measure everything that goes out."

It's like a pyramid scheme, where if they don't have cubs, you take a financial bath.