Some animals are too cute to go extinct. But even they must ultimately go along with the crowd.
Some people just have different priorities than the rest of us.
Take Notre Dame. As the Age of Realignment dawned, and football independence became a quaint, outmoded concept, Notre Dame stubbornly refused to join the Big Ten or any other conference. Not just because having their own TV contract was a sweet deal, but because independence was a big part of who they were. They answered to no league office, they entered into no pre-arranged bowl deals, and they made their own schedule.
And it wasn't the first time. For 45 years, Notre Dame famously refused to participate in bowl games. The true reason for the ban was murky, and the reasons for lifting it even murkier. But even then, money wasn't far from the discussion. Here's what Sports Illustrated had to say in 1969:
...as it turned out, the real reason that Notre Dame lifted its bowl ban was money. The road to the decision was laid as early as last June when the financial committee on scholarship aid discovered it needed help. Notre Dame already was up to its statue of Moses in fund drives totaling $52 million (NOTE: $325 million in 2012 dollars), and, thus, some other source of revenue would be required to aid a program for underprivileged students. The committee thought of a bowl game as one possibility.
So perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when, in September 2012, the Irish announced their intentions to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football, where they'll play 5 ACC games a year as an "independent." Which goes to show that you can't fight progress. Even the most unique and idealistic among us will eventually be broken by the cold realities of capitalism, and the wishes of the mob.
And so it is with giant pandas.
If any animal should be extinct, it is the giant panda. Their physiology is pretty much a textbook on How Not to Evolve. Here are a few of the ways natural selection has tried to tell us that giant pandas need to go away:
- 99% of the giant panda's diet is bamboo.
- Bamboo has few nutrients.
- Giant pandas don't even get those nutrients, because their stomachs are not designed to effectively digest bamboo. (They basically have carnivore stomachs.)
- To meet their survival needs, giant pandas have to eat 85 pounds of bamboo -- about a third of their body weight -- every single day.
- Of those 85 pounds, about 70 pounds of it passes through the body, which means:
- Giant pandas crap fifty times a day. No exaggeration. They crap every about every half hour. Imagine having to trek to the bathrooms at Raymond James after every quarter, before and after the game, one other time, again right when you get home, and crapping your pants on Dale Mabry during the drive home.
- When giant pandas aren't eating or crapping, they're sleeping. The bears are "active" 14 hours a day, and spend much of that time napping.
Surely they do something other than eat, sleep, and crap, right?
- No, they don't.
- Giant pandas don't travel. Their typical range is maybe 2-5 square miles, compared to 15-80 square miles for the common black bear.
- Giant pandas don't socialize. They are solitary and introverted animals.
- Giant pandas have no unique skills, readily available prey, fighting ability, tool usage, or any other discernible traits that would aid in their survival.
To overcome these survival disadvantages, surely giant pandas must be prolific reproducers?
- Female pandas are only fertile for 72 hours a year.
- At any given time, only 1 in 5 female pandas can produce eggs.
- Females are incredibly picky about their mates. Which is a problem when your species is down to about 3,000 members total. (Imagine having to find a mate with only the population of Lutz to choose from.) In one case in Thailand, a female refused to mate with a male who was deemed "too fat" at 150 kilograms -- about 10% heavier than the female, after you account for gender.
- Pandas will refuse to mate if the weather is uncomfortable, which apparently means off by a few degrees or a few percentage points in humidity. They never would have mated during that 2011 UConn game, for example.
- If someone calls you "hung like a panda", it's not a compliment. The average size is about 1.2 inches -- so small that females have been mistaken for males.
And if you do possess the rare combination of luck, timing, charm, and marksmanship with small caliber weapons, here's what can still go wrong:
- Because the giant panda's bamboo diet is so lacking in nutrients, the mother's womb cannot sustain the fetus for more than five months. So cubs are born prematurely. Newborn panda cubs look like someone shaved a guinea pig.
- Panda newborns are so disproportionately tiny that they can be accidentally crushed by the mother.
- Since pandas do not form family units, the mother's need to leave the den exposes baby pandas to predators.
- If a giant panda gives birth to twins or triplets, which is common, the mother will only care for the strongest offspring, leaving the other(s) to die.
- Giant pandas are susceptible to birth defects, as the National Zoo in Washington D.C. found out recently.
- She might be faking it. Giant pandas will show the effects of pregnancy, whether they are or not. (Just in case you thought three days a year of fertility was a nice alternative to those pesky monthly cycles.)
Here's a creature with an evolutionary death wish, and yet it manages to survive while far more adaptable organisms die out. How do they do it? Easy: by being special.
Notre Dame, as we all know, had a sweetheart deal with the BCS that allowed them to keep the independent lifestyle they wished for themselves. Giant pandas, as we all know, are the most adored animals in the world, and benefit from massive conservation efforts. And in both cases, people wondered out loud why they deserved such special consideration.
But they couldn't keep it up forever. The new national championship system, and the collapse of the Big East, forced Notre Dame to do what it so long resisted. And giant pandas seemed to figure out that they if they want to keep getting the rock star treatment from zoos, they had to squeeze out an offspring every once in awhile.
During the 1980s and 1990s, American zoos' failure to mate their pandas was a huge media story. So much so that George Carlin had to speak out against it:
It wasn't until 2005 that the Washington Zoo succeeded in breeding a baby panda that lived: Tai Shan And that required artificial insemination. (Panda porn and Viagra were tried previously. They didn't work.) Panda births are more common now; the San Diego Zoo has a brand new cub you can check out via the PandaCam.
In other words, the giant panda wouldn't reproduce until we started to ignore them, and Beijing started missing out on the outrageous fees they collect for panda loans. Personally, I think the little black-and-white twerps know exactly what they're doing.
And if that's true, perhaps we shouldn't be forcing these individualists into the survival model the rest of the world has adopted. So here's to you, Notre Dame; realignment sucks, and you fought it as long as you could.
For more fun and disgusting facts about the giant panda, see: