Eating panda

Fact from the Down Syndrome Association: 1 in 691 births in the United States are affected by Down syndrome, making it the most frequently occurring chromosomal condition. Yet despite its frequency, Down syndrome is the least funded of the conditions serviced by the National Institutes of Health receiving approximately $17 million out of a total $28 billion budget.

A few years back, BBC presenter and well-respected naturalist Chris Packham drew serious heat when he said he would “eat the last panda if I could have all the money we have spent on panda conservation put back on the table for me to do more sensible things with.”

While he was ‘sensibly’ referring to using those funds towards helping other animals who could be saved in the wild, the  statement upset a lot of panda lovers. And what’s not to love? Pandas are freakin’ adorable. And they are a veritable cash cow for organizations like the WWF or the San Diego Zoo.

(The San Diego Zoo’s annual panda budget alone exceeds the amount our nation’s government spends on Down syndrome research.)

Now don’t misunderstand my point like poor Chris Packham’s. (I always cringe when people say things like “People are starving in this country and we’re sending NASA to Mars?!” As though cutting the space program would immediately translate into the disappearance of hunger for our nation’s impoverished.)

My thought is less about the actual dollar amounts, and more about our priorities as a civilization. China could save the panda by not destroying it’s habitat. Yes, we’re saving a species that has nowhere to live other than zoos at this point.

Perhaps it’s all marketing. I would like to see our Down syndrome organizations coming up with logos as adorable as this one.

I am a friend of wildlife. I believe that we are all interconnected, and how we treat animals is a direct reflection of our own souls. Humankind has disrespected and exploited certain species, whether it’s killing rhinos for their magical horny-horns, or inbreeding dogs to pass on some traits we find irresistible…humankind has been pretty crappy stewards.

But human exploitation is also used to cash-in on their cuteness and vulnerability. (The U.S. CEO of the WWF was paid $455,147 way back in 2009. That’s more than the POTUS.)

But I digress.

I wish that the ’cause’ of human capital mattered as much to us as some other precious appeals. There’s a site I view on occasion that just crushes my heart. is an adoption website; which seems to focus primarily on hard-to-place and overseas adoptions. (Yeah design geeks, they need a logo that is way cuter.) But man-oh-man, what a cause.

Flip through the images of children needing placement. See that there’s a dollar amount to help out potential parents with the associated costs?

We’re not talking about giving money to keep panda sperm on ice, or buy a CEO a Mercedes. It’s to literally rescue children from institutions and orphanages.

I know I’m saying things that will likely put me in a boat to social hell with Chris Packham. I am selfishly being a champion for my own cause (or at least one I believe in).

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Week. And while I really don’t want anyone to forget about our planet’s animals, please don’t ignore the needs of fellow human beings. Don’t think that others are giving loads of money to these causes and trumping conservation. I would eat panda (or promise to not eat) if you’d send a few dollars to a cause that helps human beings with special needs. We will all be richer for it.

Have a terrific week!


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