Soon Great Britain will have another famous couple to gawk at. As Prince William and Duchess Catherine settle into married life, the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland will welcome a breeding pair of giant pandas from China by the end of this year. Along with Tian Tian and Yang Guan, the zoo will also be receiving the challenge of feeding its new charges. Mainly, this means supplying nearly 40,000 pounds of bamboo annually. Much of this will be imported from the Netherlands, but zoo officials have plans to grow some fifteen percent of the needed bamboo on site.
Pandas have highly specialized dietary needs, and the zoo is concerned with seeing that Tian Tian and Yang Guan have the very best quality of bamboo, as well as a consistent supply of several different species. Naturally their supply cannot come from just anywhere. Nevertheless, the manager of the zoo’s gardens, Simon Jones, says “we have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest and offers we have received from members of the public wanting to grow and supply bamboo for us.”
I would hate to see all of that public interest go to waste when it could be a terrific opportunity for the region. Awareness of the commercial and environmental potential of bamboo is certainly growing, but I imagine that for many of those who expressed interest in donating their land and effort to the Edinburgh Zoo their only real concern was with those adorable pandas, and bamboo was just an afterthought.
The zoo’s commitment to growing a portion of that bamboo locally brings into focus the remarkable hardiness of bamboo and the diversity of climates and markets in which it can grow. No doubt the only reason why the zoo cannot expect to locally source more than fifteen percent of its new pandas’ bamboo is that the requisite growing operations are not established yet, not because a much larger portion of that bamboo couldn’t be grown in Scotland. And it’s the same for all but the most inhospitable regions.
The Edinburgh Zoo says that it will be developing educational projects with those who have offered help in growing bamboo. But will those education projects be strictly about pandas and their diet, or will they discuss bamboo in more general terms. It would be nice if someone would take advantage of the outpouring of interest in the crop to make people and institutions aware of the myriad other applications for which they might still be able to grow it.
If an innovative and panda-loving Scottish entrepreneur has been paying attention to this story, perhaps he will recognize this as an opportunity to source bamboo to be harvested for use in producing viscose textiles, or as a building material, or as food for human beings as well as bamboos. And maybe then, after a few years when small-scale but consistent bamboo growing operations have been established in the area, Edinburgh will be better-positioned to reduce the carbon footprint of caring for its pandas, by providing even more than fifteen percent of that bamboo on its own.
But even fifteen percent is rather impressive coming from an area that one would probably never think to associate with bamboo growing. It’s a situation that can be duplicated pretty much anywhere, although it’s not necessary to wait for the adorable pandas first. In fact, it’s better not to, and much preferable if it the interest in bamboo comes from sincere environmental and economic concerns. Then, any town that has a zoo and has already started growing bamboo locally will be better prepared if they ever get a pair of their own wonderfully adorable pandas.