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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Consider the Panda Bear

Panda Bear Eating Bamboo

I’ve often wondered about panda bears. They live in bamboo forests and they’re extremely difficult to mate in captivity. Every panda that’s born around the world belongs to China and their names all reflect that heritage. Yet, these bears aren’t exactly like the bears in North America or others parts of the world. They’re almost docile.

Consider the changes that have been tracked in domesticated animals. From the wolf1 we gain the vast breeds of todays dog. An animal that evolved as a predictor was turned into a pet, vocal chords meant for one noise have transformed into another noise. Ears and tail have taken on different meanings and in the end the dog no longer reflects its progenitor.

The same becomes true of any creature changed over time from what it was to something new. Hints of the old and dangerous may remain, but in the end what is left is something different and not always better2.

Returning to the panda bear, it doesn’t take a long logical leap to go from an Asian black bear to the modern instantiation of the panda. The outcome is, after all, more desirable in attitude and appearance than that of the Asian black bear3.

It’s difficult for me to imagine an evolutionary world where passiveness and bamboo shoots and leaves are more desirable than hunting and killing and salmon. Lots and lots of salmon4.

As I see it, the panda was selectively bred hundreds of years before Darwin journeyed out into the world on The Beagle and observed the Galapagos finch. Where nature forces the adaptation of the finches beak to allow for larger nut cracking, a natural process, the panda would’ve been bred for specific characteristics5.

Except, instead of natural processes whereby traits and characteristics were the outcome of live or die breeding6, instead what is looked for are only the characteristics and outcomes that would make a good pet. Smaller. Tamer. Trainable. Cuter. All the important things.

As a result of forced breeding7, unwanted characteristics are introduced and from there we find other problems, like pandas don’t easily get pregnant and the panda cubs are hard to care for - though this has gotten easier in the sense that we (collective and not to specifically include me) have learned a lot about pandas and panda babies and how to keep them alive.

All of which leads to:

I want a real panda bear as a pet.

  1. By wolf I’m most likely referring to some proto-wolf, an ancestor of what exists today. Maybe even more of an apex predator than currently exists.  

  2. This is a highly subjective statement, though it may be possible to quantify complete utility across a lot of different factors. Though, to be completely honest, I have a hard time agreeing that the modern pug is more desirable than its 100 year old (as in human years and not dog year equivalence) and has a more pronounced snout.  

  3. I’m delving back into the pool of subjective opinion and not allowing for an objective approach. Though, if given the choice, I’d prefer the panda bear over the Asian black bear.  

  4. This is a direct borrow from the Alaskan Grizzly and the species annual salmon feast as the fish head upriver to spawn.  

  5. Given the vast and extensive history of Chinas many dynasties keeping copious records, I’m about 65-83% confident that at some point the selective breeding of beads that led to the panda will be revealed.  

  6. © forever by me. Also, one of the interesting side effects of the loss of the dodo bird was that the forests on the island Mauritius haven’t produced a new tree since the dodo bird went extinct. The reason? The dodo would swallow the seed of the trees and the trip through the digestive tract would weaken the outside just enough to allow the seed to grow. In this case, an example of co-evolution where two things become dependent on the other and the loss of one leads to the eventual loss or adaptation of the other.  

  7. This is only tertiarily related, but Frank Herbert covers this in humans with his group of witches, the Bene Gesserit order that universally and selectively bred men and women for specific desirable physical characteristics. Mostly it was about what was considered attractive.  

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