2 Oct 2015

Want pandas? Build a bamboo plantation

9:52 am on 2 October 2015

If Wellington wants giant pandas, it would need to build a bamboo plantation or import 50 kilograms of the plant a day, an Adelaide executive says.

One of the two giant pandas China's central government sent as gifts to Macau eats bamboo at Seac Pai Van Park in Macau, China, 31 May 2015

A giant panda enjoys a bamboo snack Photo: AFP

This week, MP Gerry Brownlee delivered the Wellington City Council's panda proposal to Chinese representatives.

But Adelaide Zoo chief executive Elaine Bernsted said Wellington should carefully consider the business case before making any decisions.

Adelaide Zoo is the only zoo in the Southern Hemisphere with giant pandas. Its pair, Wong Wong and Fernie, have been in Australia since 2009, but are on loan from the Chinese government.

"You don't pay for the pandas - they remain owned by the Chinese, they're called their national treasures, so they are always the property of the Chinese government.

"We have a ten year agreement with China, which is the fairly standard approach."

But there were substantial start-up costs, including the building of a ten hectare bamboo plantation, about 30 kilometres north of the zoo.

There is one permanent staff member tasked with working at the plantation, who delivers bamboo to the zoo three to four times a week.

"The [main] cost that comes with pandas is bamboo - it is primarily what they eat, and they eat a large quanitty of bamboo. It's about about 25 kilograms per day per panda, so you're talking 50 kilograms of bamboo.

She said Wellington Zoo would have two options: to grow bamboo, or bring it in.

"[It] makes up about 98 percent of their diet. We supplement it with some protein and with some fruit, but primarily they're bamboo eaters."

But though Adelaide Zoo has had to borrow millions to set up and support the pandas, Ms Bernsted said they were a great tourist attraction, at least for the first couple of years.

"You can very clearly see that they bring in visitors, which of course does bring in revenue. That big peak of visitors generally lasts for about eighteen months to two years."

She cautioned Wellington Zoo to think carefully about the costs and ramifications of having the animals.

"My advice would be - do the business assessment. It's very different for every zoo. The infrastructure that's needed must be carefully costed and assessed.

"They are an incredible drawcard, but every zoo would need to make that assessment in conjunction with their government."