By Carol Cain
Could there be a giant panda bear or two in the Motor City’s future?
If Gov. Rick Snyder – who has been to China three times and worked aggressively to build two way economic bridges between Michigan and the Asian nation — is able to finesse the politically complex and expensive road to get it done — the answer could be “Yao!”
Snyder, who re-opened the dormant sister relationship Michigan established decades earlier with the Sichuan Province where pandas are found, talked about the possibility during taping of “Michigan Matters” (it airs 11:30 a.m. this Sunday on CBS 62).
Snyder also discussed Detroit’s bankruptcy, Kevyn Orr, prospects for Mike Duggan as mayor and his own political future.
But it was his embracing a giant panda or two (the Chinese government sometimes loans them in pairs) for Detroit that was most unexpected.
“That’s a topic we’re talking about,” Snyder said.“We’re having internal conversations. One of the things we are looking at is how best to do that, and how expensive it is. The panda process is somewhat expensive to make sure they are maintained in the right way.”
When asked where the panda would be housed if successful – whether the Detroit Zoo or Belle Isle Zoo (which the state is taking control of as part of the city’s bankruptcy) — Snyder said that is also part of the preliminary conversations.
The Detroit Zoo already has red pandas which are popular but not in the same league of their giant panda bretheren.
China began offering to loan pandas to other nations in 1984 and charges a fee reportedly around $1 million. Then there are costs of maintaining the bears and feeding them which is no small feat.
To borrow a panda or two, Snyder would need to work with the Chinese government.
He’d also likely need the support of corporations with “guanxi” or established relationships in China to lend a helping hand . Firms like Ford, GM, Amway might be among those he’d look to as they have strong footprints in the Asian nation.
The giant panda is on the endangered species list with only 1,600 alive in the wild in central China. Another 300 are housed at zoos and breeding grounds around the globe.
Zoos in Washington, D.C., San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis currently have giant pandas on display.
In 1988, our neighbors to the south in Toledo, Ohio had two giant pandas at the Toledo Zoo.
Panda footprints around the world
The giant panda enjoys rock star status and is the most famous goodwill ambassador of China.
China historically used the giant panda as diplomatic gifts to other countries until they changed policy and began charging for them.
America saw its first pandas in 1972 after President Richard Nixon opened relations by visiting the Asian nation. The Chinese government sent Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing –- to Nixon as a gift which Pat Nixon sent to the National Zoo.
Pandas elicit “ohhs” and “ahhs” from kids of all ages which is why they are so much in demand. They inspire long lines of admirers and generate economic development like few other exhibits.
A giant panda weighs about 250 pounds when fully grown and eats bamboo – tons of it.
I visited the Wolong Nature Reserve — which has a panda breeding center — while working on CBS 62’s “Eye on the Future: Building Bridges From the Great Lakes to the Great Wall” a few years ago.
Wolong houses the second largest panda breeding center in China with 100 pandas.
I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit with a baby panda as he spent time eating “panda cakes” which consisted of bamboo, sugar cane, rice, carrots, apples, and other nutrients.
The panda is smaller than a stick of butter at birth but grows quickly. – weighing nearly 70 pounds by the time they are seven months old.
A giant panda eats from 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo each day over a 10 to 16 hour period. The rest of the time is spent mostly sleeping.
No doubt, having a giant panda or two at the Detroit Zoo or Belle Isle Zoo would be a fascinating way to generate dollars and positive attention for the Motor City and would be worth the incredible time , energy and resources Snyder and his team would need expend to get it done if they decide to go for it.
(Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer/Host of “Michigan Matters” which airs 11:30 am Sunday on CBS 62. Gov. Snyder appears on Sunday’s show. She also writes about business and politics in Sunday’s Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).