The pandas are coming to Canada again, but where the $20 million needed to bring the two cute and cuddly bears to The Toronto Zoo will come from and whether it will be a worthwhile investment, is not yet black and white.
According to Coun. Georgio Mammoliti, who sits on the Toronto Zoo’s board of management, several corporate sponsors have inquired about funding the initiative that will see a male panda, named Er-Shun, and female panda lent to Canada for up to 15 years starting in 2012.
“Right now we just want (the funding) to come from sponsors and we are hoping that we can find someone who is prepared to pay the full cost and then make their money back and more,” Mammoliti said, “We’re going to send the call out and see exactly who can respond.”
Cost to the zoo to house the pandas is estimated at about $10 million, plus another $10 million in fees to the Chinese government to keep them. But not everyone thinks it will be money well spent.
“That’s a lot of money,” Julie Woodyer, Campaign Director of Zoocheck, said. “As far as we’re concerned the best use of all monies would be to actually get the facility in to proper repair and catch up on that backlog rather than adding new animals.”
Mammoliti estimates the pandas will be a huge draw for the Zoo, especially with the Pan Am games set to roll through Scarborough during the bears’ visit.
“We’ll see a jump probably to the tune of about 700,000 people a year,” he said. “We’re going to get people coming to Toronto, seeing the pandas, falling in love with them and wanting to come back specifically to see them.”
The councillor estimated the zoo’s attendance will increase from 1.3 million guests to approximately 2 million guests after the pandas arrive.
Two similarly furry creatures created pandemonium when they came to Canada in 1985, but whether the new pandas get a similar response remains to be seen.
Not everyone is welcoming the beasts’ arrival to Canada with open arms, and several animal protection agencies are concerned that housing these endangered species may not be in the animals’ best interests.
“I find that the arguments that this is educational or that it relates to conservation to be a farce,” Barry Kent Mackay, Canadian representative for Born Free U.S.A., said. “Most people who visit zoos go to be entertained. It’s a prestige thing for the zoo.”
Mammoliti disagreed and said educating the public, breeding the animals and putting money into conservation are at the top of the zoo’s mandate.
Dr. Ming Tat Cheung, Chair of the Panda Acquisition Task Force, said that the $2-million per year being paid to the Chinese government is to go toward conservation initiatives and will bind the two countries together.
“I think it’s important for the public to realize this is not just for grabbing money from the public,” he said. “This is a good gesture for each country that will benefit both countries, and bring them together.”
Mammoliti has been working with the Canadian and Chinese governments for almost 10 years to bring the animals to the zoo.
While the financing is still not finalized, Mammoliti is confident the animals will be in Scarborough come 2012.
“I’ve been at this for too long to say that we aren’t getting them,” he said. “We’ve been spending countless hours on this to ensure that these animals get to Toronto and we will strike the right deal to make sure that happens.”