Panda’s in Vegas: Education or exploitation?
By Paul
Las Vegas has always been interested in animals, with the casino industry’s fascination with the “snake eyes” of craps, or on tending to “whales” – high rollers, in casino parlance. And if you look hard enough, you may even find one or two weasels on the strip. But Pandas? That’s a whole different proposition…

The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas is planning to import giant Pandas, something that only the San Diego Zoo, the Washington, D.C., Zoo and Zoo Atlanta, have done in the US. Question is, is this merely another crowd-puller, such as the hybrid white lions and tigers used by Magicians Siegfried and Roy in their show at the Mirage, or is it a genuine attempt at conservation?

Under federal guidelines, giant pandas, an endangered species in their native China, can only be brought into this country for research, not solely for exhibition.

'We are in the process of setting up a nonprofit entity to regulate and manage a panda facility and hope it attracts some top-quality researchers ... (who) would contribute to the survival of the species,' said Mandalay Bay spokeswoman Megan Jones.

To prove that its motivation truly is animal welfare, the 3,800-room vacation and gambling destination is putting up$50 million for panda research and conservation.

The hotel's commitment to conservation is demonstrated by its Shark Reef aquarium, said Jones, who called it an educational resource for visitors and schools.

Conservationists, meanwhile, are skeptical of Mandalay Bay’s panda plan: 'Our primary concern is commercial exploitation of endangered species, which is prohibited under international and US law,' said Karen Baragona, panda conservation program manager at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.

'This raises the specter of a gimmicky exhibition to attract gamblers,' Baragona said.

However, money talks, and Mandalay Bay could send as much as $50 million over 10 years for panda programs in China, Jones said. The money would come primarily from admissions. This compares to the $1 million each that the three nonprofit zoos pay China annually for loaning the pandas.

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