In the end the news from Edinburgh Zoo wasn’t good. After a long, complicated and at times over-hyped pregnancy, Britain’s only female giant panda had lost her cub. If the announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise, it was still a blow.
Until a few days ago the signs had been positive. We were told Tian Tian was “nesting”; that she was moody, withdrawn and had started producing baby milk. There was always the risk of a phantom pregnancy (we’d been warned) but keepers were hopeful; a nursery had been set-up with two incubators in the event it was twins and an expert flown in from China as a precaution.All Tian Tian had to do was deliver the goods. That of course didn’t happen – panda pregnancies are notoriously tricky – but had she produced a cub, or better still cubs, that is exactly what they would have been: prized goods; fluffy balls of fur representing hard cash and a guaranteed income stream for the next three years. And if we are completely honest, that is the reason pandas – along with other so-called big ticket animals like tigers – are kept in zoos. Yes, they do valuable work, but they are still attractions which must pay their way. Their business is as much about self-preservation as it is conservation, and pa