Saturday, August 16, 2014

MALONEY | China Okays 2 Pandas for NYC

"The most charismatic animal there is"–Two Giant Pandas.
Bridgehampton, N.Y., August 16, 2015–The first giant panda was brought from China to the United States in 1936 by New Yorker Ruth Harkness.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-12, formerly NY-14), just returned from China, has fulfilled a long-time dream of hers. She has had two pandas okayed.

Maloney told a group of friends in Bridgehampton (Alice was with me), including Rep. Tim Bishop (NY-1) that after she applied to the Chengdu Research Base, Chinese officials have in principle authorized release of two pandas to New York City.

Her timing was excellent, because at the end of July triplets were born to the giant panda mother, Juxiao. The Chimelong Safari Park in southern China did not announce the rare three-panda birth until last week for fear that one or more of the baby pandas would not survive.

Back in 1936, Harkness brought in one panda and carried it through Customs as if it were a dog.

Maloney has brought back a commitment from the Chinese authorities to release to NYC two giant pandas once paperwork is completed. The Chinese want to know that their giant pandas will have a good home. And there will be costs.
L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin and Reps. Carolyn Maloney
and Tim Bishop at the announcement of China's
commitment of new pandas. Photo by JT Marlin.

The Central Park Zoo is the target location, near Maloney's constituents. The giant pandas would be a big draw for tourists and would surely greatly increase attendance at Central Park Zoo.

The Zoo's 6.5 acres on Fifth Avenue in NYC  require special planning to maximize its appeal to visitors. The Zoo's relatively small size - the Bronx Zoo is 40 times bigger, the largest urban zoo in the world - limits what it can show and do. The Central Park Zoo can't possibly show more than a tiny fraction of the 650 species represented at the Bronx Zoo by 6,000 animals.

However, the Central Park Zoo must be #1 zoo in the world for convenient access by residents and workers, being right at the center of a population of 16 million prospering residents of Greater NYC.

Both the Bronx Zoo and the Central Park Zoo are run under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation  Society, which also operates the Prospect Park and Queens Zoos and the New York Aquarium.

The Central Park Zoo does already have red pandas, but they are smaller and have not yet captured the same love from the American public that the giant pandas attract.

Only four U.S. zoos have giant pandas - San Diego, which has three giant pandas and ranks #1 in annual attendance with 3.2 million visitors; the National Zoo in Washington, DC; Atlanta and Memphis. I have visited the pandas at the San Diego Zoo and one thing I remember is that they were located in a basin-type environment that could be kept shaded and cool.

The Bronx Zoo ranks #8 among U.S. zoos in attendance, with 2.3 million visitors per year. The Central Park Zoo has half as many visitors and ranks about #22.

The National Zoo in Washington found that the initial jump in attendance and revenue was larger than they expected, 800,000 new visitors, but then attendance fell back along with the economy and the loss of novelty. Washington does not have as large a population and media base as New York, so that NYC could expect to do better.

The National Zoo raised the money it needed -- $25 million over 10 years for fees to China that are used to ensure survival of the pandas,  insurance, a research program and an education outreach effort -- before the pandas arrived. The pandas' diet, which is almost entirely made up of bamboo shoots, is donated. The zoo's annual operating budget pays for other food, keeper salaries and other expenses. Fujifilm funded much of the construction of a panda habitat in the National Zoo. Some costs are paid for by federal funds.

Pandas "are the most charismatic animal there is," said a spokesman for the National Zoo. Fundraising for zoos from individuals and corporations is much easier if the zoos have pandas.

If 50 percent more visitors are attracted to the Central Park Zoo because of the promised giant pandas, that could mean additional revenue from admissions and incidental sales of at least $10 million a year. Given the Central Park Zoo's location and the larger regional market, it should be ideal for capturing more revenue from the pandas, and should not suffer the same drop-off of subsequent attendance. The new revenue should more than cover the costs of the pandas.

Meanwhile it will raise the status of the Central Park Zoo and tourism generally, with additional tourist visits from the region and beyond helping to keep local hotels and restaurants and other NYC tourist destinations busy.