- PETA has criticized China’s decision to gift Qatar two giant pandas ahead of the World Cup.
- The charity told Insider that “gifting live animals as if they’re stuffed toys” is “disrespectful and unkind.”
- China has gifted giant pandas for hundreds of years in attempts to improve ties with foreign nations.
Animal rights charity PETA has hit out at China’s decision to gift Qatar two giant pandas ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, calling the gesture “out of touch.”
The two pandas — known in Chinese as Si Hai and Jing Jing — arrived in Qatar on Wednesday and will spend the next 15 years in an indoor enclosure, which is designed to duplicate the climate of the western Chinese forests where the animals are native.
After a 21-day quarantine, the pair will be available for public viewing by the time the World Cup starts on November 20, with Qatar expecting more than 1.2 million visitors for the tournament.
“Gifting live animals as if they’re stuffed toys is not only unsporting, it’s disrespectful and unkind. This gift is out of touch with today’s values and ignores the many other wonders China is known for – a replica of the Great Wall or a calligraphy pen, for instance, would have been far more suitable,” PETA’s Vice President of Programmes Elisa Allen, told Insider.
“Pandas don’t belong in an enclosure thousands of miles from their natural home to be gawped at for human entertainment. There are many kind people in China and around the world who want pandas to thrive in their natural habitats, the dense forests of the mountainous Sichuan province.”
China has gifted giant pandas for hundreds of years to try to improve ties with foreign nations in a practice that has become known as “Panda diplomacy.”
Qatar, however, is the first country in the Middle East to be gifted the animals by China.
Speaking at a welcome ceremony for the pandas on Wednesday, Zhou Jian, the Chinese ambassador to Qatar, called the pandas a “symbol of peace.”
“I believe that these two lovely pandas will soon become the focus of love among the Qatari people and superstars in the Middle East,” he said. “We hope that the pandas’ arrival could promote the idea of harmonious coexistence between man and nature.”
Zhou added that he hopes the pandas can bring peace to parts of the Middle East that are “still ravaged by turmoil and war.”
“We hope that these two lovely pandas can awaken people’s cherish for peace and confidence in development, put a stop to wars, and turn swords into plowshares,” he said.
Giant pandas, which reproduce rarely in the wild and rely on a diet of bamboo, are among the world’s most endangered species.
According to Smithsonian’s National Zoo, there are as few as 1,864 giant pandas live in the wild, while another 600 live in zoos and reserves around the world.