Thursday, January 03, 2013

Pandas: Reviewing the Promises

Attendance at Taipei Zoo, 1999-2012. The pandas arrived in Dec of 2008. Figures for 2012 do not yet include Dec, which should add at least 225,000.

Heh. It was four years ago this month that the Annexation Lardbombs exploded at the Taipei Zoo. They were delivered on Dec 23, 2008, and went on display a month later, to a brief flurry of absolute madness. Profoundly political and not the least bit a demonstration of goodwill, they were handled as a "domestic transfer" under CITES, one of the many quiet ways that the Ma government has capitulated to Beijing, as my round-up post above notes. They were named "Reunification" in Chinese. The Zoo's annual budget for them was over a million US$, and it wasted $10 million US on the enclosure for them, according to AP.

Meanwhile, let's review those promises from the heady days of late 2008.
Zoo officials expect the two giant pandas to attract more than 6 million visitors in the first year, saying they will issue numbered slips to visitors at the panda hall to prevent them from waiting in long lines.(TT)
Six million! Zoiks! Meanwhile I wrote at the time:
Based on these previous crazes, there will undoubtedly be another craze for the pandas, simple creatures, the public will queue up in long lines for a short glimpse of the rotund bamboo chewing machines, leading commentators to write about how successful the Capitulationist Raccoons are.

But the fact is that such crazes, normal in Taiwanese life, have short half-lives, and this one will fade as it dawns even on the easily-led primate herds of Taipei that observing pandas is as unique and fun and interesting as watching granite erode.
Of course I was right, the whole thing was another one of those "we'll make money by subsidizing China" scams the pro-China crowd is so fond of. I wrote at the time:
It's a very Chinese gift somehow, that gets Taiwan to pay to starve its own resources for the sake of China. Indeed a perfect metaphor for Taiwan-China relations.  
If you eyeball the chart at the top, you can see that there is a bulge for the pandas but the general trend is flat and falling since 2002. Essentially officials were predicting a doubling of attendance thanks to the presence of two furred machines for turning bamboo into shit. The exact opposite actually happened.

How long did the craze last? Zoo attendance figures by month for 2008-10:

The major portion of panda-money'em lasted through May, with another small bump in the summer. After that, it was business as usual, with attendance figures in the excellent fall weather actually below those of the same time the previous year. The pandas are an expensive failure. I hope the next DPP president has the stones to send them back and spend the money on the popular Formosan Bears and other less political creatures.

REF: Information from the Zoo's 2012 quarterly report (4th quarter).
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Anonymous said...

"the popular Formosan Bears"

Yes, that will stimulate attendance!

Corey said...

Ah, yes, sarcasm, just what I'd expect by someone hiding behind anonymous.

I don't know why such sarcasm exists, I've felt that Taiwanese do, indeed, like the Formosan black bear more than the pandas. Make it more Taiwan-centered and relevant to Taiwanese, and maybe they'll go in higher numbers.

Michael Turton said...

The black bears were the most popular animal in 2008.


Marc said...

I'd be interested to know what drew the crowds from 1999-2002.

Thoth Harris said...

There are Formosan bears at the small, 10-dollar-per-entrance Hsinchu zoo.
A lot of people are unaware that there is a zoo in Hsinchu.

David on Formosa said...

Good work, Michael.

Julian said...

Pandas are wonderful animals, even if they don't know how to procreate. It's too bad they've become a punch bag for all the false hopes that Beijing has raised, in Taiwan and elsewhere.

Thoth Harris said...

Ralph Jennings has written a decent article for a change, in this rare, more disengaged article (finally, not from Reuters!) in the Christian Science Monitor:

Anonymous said...

I mean, hate the policies, sure. Hat the men and women behind them--maybe. But animals? Do they really deserve the castigation?

Thoth Harris said...

@Julian and Anonymous I agree. The animals themselves don't deserve the castigation. Not much else one can say about that though. People invest too much baggage on both sides. People should try and apply more ironical distance about things.

Michael Turton said...

People invest too much baggage on both sides. People should try and apply more ironical distance about things.

That's why I lard my panda posts with humor. Yet we should recall that they have an important political function.