China's panda marketing machine scored a big hit this week with the recent introduction of "iPanda,"
billed as a the "first 24-hour HD live telecast program of pandas through multiple cameras worldwide."
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Small matter that most of the website's cameras trained on the Chengdu Panda Research Base are not yet working, other panda cams can already be viewed on zoo websites around the world, and that watching pandas turns out to be mostly really boring. IPanda -- its name a head-scratching endangered animal/Apple product hybrid -- is already showing signs of becoming the world leader in panda aggregation.
It's a reminder that giant pandas are a very big business for the Chinese government -- as well as a bamboo-munching 250-pound embodiment of the country's devastating environmental policies.
There are currently more than 40 pandas, including breeding pairs and cubs born overseas, on loan from China worldwide, not counting pandas in Hong Kong and Taiwan. While costs paid by zoos vary, the most conservative estimate, based on negotiations U.S. zoos made with Beijing in 2008, is $500,000 per breeding pair per year, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars per panda cub born while the pair is being rented.