They are cute and cuddly, but one wildlife expert argues that pandas should be left to go extinct.
Naturalist Chris Packham, a BBC nature host, says pandas are an evolutionary dead end. He says they are not very bright, they have many challenges reproducing in captivity, and because they live in the most populous country on the planet, China, their environment is shrinking.
"Can we really afford these big charismatic animals that suck up so much of our funding?" Packham asked on Britain's GMTV.
Pandas are the rarest bears in the world. The giant pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., have become local celebrities and draw about 3 million tourists a year.
"The reason they need our help is that people are driving them to extinction. We are taking over their habitat, so we are the ones that have to help save them now," Brandie Smith, senior curator at the National Zoo, said.
Packham says he does not want the pandas to die but argues they might not be worth saving.
"But let's face it: Conservation, both nationally and globally, has a limited amount of resources, and I think we're going to have to make some hard, pragmatic choices," Packham told the U.K. newspaper the Guardian.
The BBC host said while it is easy to raise money for something "fluffy," our money is better spent saving habitats, such as rain forests.
"The truth is, pandas are extraordinarily expensive to keep going. We spend millions and millions of pounds on pretty much this one species, and a few others, when we know that the best thing we could do would be to look after the world's biodiversity hot spots with greater care," Packham told the Guardian.
The World Wildlife Fund's conservation science advisor, Mark Wright, called Packham's argument "unhelpful."
"Giant pandas can function and survive perfectly well if they're given space to do so, which is exactly what we're working to achieve," Wright said.
Packham argues he is just being realistic.
"I'm not trying to play God; I'm playing God's accountant. I'm saying we won't be able to save it all, so let's do the best we can," Packham said.