Oceans and land
Somerset police dog praised for successfully tracking suspect
On the track to the moors
Initiative to improve sustainable fish labelling unveiled
Protection of grey wolves may be ended by Obama administration
RSPCA comes under fire for badger cull protests
The rain released from the parched ground that glorious earthy perfume
May's diverse wildlife finds hedgerows the perfect home
The pink-footed geese seemed restless, as if uncertain what they were doing
Study links insecticide use to invertebrate die-offs
Has the internet killed the Loch Ness monster?
Waitrose pledges to source all seafood from independently certified providers
It's the first time I've heard the chiffchaff's song this year
Edinburgh zoo's pandas help boost visitor numbers by 51%
Their bombastic majesties begin the nectar frenzy
Pandas have saved Edinburgh zoo from extinction but what for?
Insecticide spraying will be expanded to control pest caterpillar
This is the EU's best chance in a decade to reduce fish discards
Fish company investigated after salmon farm pollutes Scottish loch
Poachers kill 26 elephants at central African world heritage site
New to nature No 103: Tinkerbella nana
Sand martins dig tunnels in the dunes
World's tallest dam approved by Chinese environmental officials
Justin Bieber 'owes thousands' after leaving monkey hanging in Germany
A brief stillness before the damselfly's short life on the wing would begin
  Pandas have saved Edinburgh zoo from extinction but what for?
It seems that Edinburgh zoo is marking its centenary with something of an annus mirabilis. Ever since the arrival of "our" pandas, a stampede of visitors has seen the once somnambulant finances of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland firmly perk up.

Little wonder then that in a lecture given to the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week, the zoo's Chris West should pay tribute to Scotland's forbearing celebrities Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

Using the customary idiom of a chief executive officer, West explained to his audience that the pandas "wrote a cheque that allowed us to mend the penguin pool". "And in future," he added, "we'll be asking them for more cheques."

Thomas Haining Gillespie, the Edinburgh solicitor who founded the zoo in 1913, would probably have been impressed with West's obvious business acumen. After all, Gillespie's vision of keeping tropical animals on a post-glacial Scottish hillside was never going to come cheap.

But he probably wouldn't have anticipated that the institution he founded would one day bring about the forcible insemination of a giant panda with the defrosted sperm of two males one of which, a cold war diplomatic gift, was already dead. (Nothing signalled east-west "peaceful coexistence" as well as a languid bamboo-muncher.)

Such are the paradoxes of the modern zoo. West is no doubt sincere when he says that zoos offer a solution to the current "nature deficit" the idea that urban dwellers, particularly children, have lost any environmental experience.

And we know that kids love the zoo. Don't they?

Recently, my mother gave me an old cine reel she had filmed when I visited Edinburgh zoo as a three-year-old. It's not a feelgood movie.

There I am watching a grubby polar bear. And here's me staring at an elephant that is swinging back and forth, back and forth. Again and again. The undoubted melancholy of the scenes cannot be blamed on the bleached colours of 1970s Super 8 film.

Even today, our experience of the zoo is so often interrupted by disappointment and confusion. The zoo is a kind of fantasy world: a miniature Earth that we haven't already wrecked, in which we attempt to relate to animals on terms that aren't evidently compromised by fear, loss and displacement.

For West the zoo can provide "genuine nature-based experiences". But it's a coy version of nature where the animals are in lockdown and the technical means of their captivity must also be veiled. Bars and cages are out; moats and discreet electric fences are in.

Yes, zoos have changed but part of their evolution has been aimed at our own discomfort at the spectacle of incarceration. In the bad old days, the cage was as much part of the picture as the lion: together they symbolised our power over other species, and, for the wild beasts of India and Africa, over other territories.

Now, in the new "immersive" zoo, we human visitors apparently enter the animals' world a wafer-thin contrivance that never fully masks the anxiety of the encounter.

The questions for me are not just about the welfare of individual animals but what our experience tells us about our relationship with the non-human world. What are zoos for? What do they mean?

West points to the importance of biological conservation and captive breeding. There are, for instance, Polynesian tree snails in Edinburgh that are now extinct in the wild.

That's also the purported logic of having pandas in Scotland (beyond being a comparative index for the number of Scottish Tory MPs). Tian Tian and Yang Guang are here to reproduce, hence the unrelenting circus of breeding windows and panda porn.

But of the 300 or so pandas in China's worldwide programme of bio-diplomacy, only two have ever been released into the wild, the first being quickly dispatched by a rival aggressor.

I can't help thinking that the much lauded conservation rationale is actually back to front: in Edinburgh's case, it is the pandas that have saved the zoo from extinction, with its visitor numbers now up 51%.

And I'm not convinced that the zoo is a species worth saving. When West referred to it as "a sort of refugee camp", I fear that kinship between these spaces of confinement is altogether too real.

From showcasing the spoils of empire to smoothing our current trade relations, zoos have continued the age-old human trick of resolving the social order through the abjection of an animal.

Pandas should be left to conduct their own relations, diplomatic or otherwise.
Japanese firm stops selling endangered whale pet treats
Comment of the week: why rewilding 'the wild' isn't so wacky
Humaneness of badger cull to be judged on noise of dying animals
Jean-Jacques Annaud: 'People who make films are in danger every day'
An oystercatcher rises surreptitiously, suggesting that it has a nest nearby
Short-haired bumblebee queens hoped to boost UK population
Badger vaccination 'would be cheaper to implement than cull'
Atlantic puffin population is in danger, scientists warn
Jellyfish surge in Mediterranean threatens environment and tourists
Lord's Resistance Army funded by elephant poaching, report finds
Why did dinosaurs evolve feathers?
Why the celebrity status of badgers is a problem
'Badger-friendly' milk to be sold in just three UK supermarkets
Labour fails in attempt to stop badger cull with Commons vote
Orange tip butterflies are so fragile, yet survive violent rainstorms intact
A cetti's warbler bursts into violent exclamation
Tammy the anteater to greet fans in London Zoo late-night walkabouts
Cod stocks recover after years of overfishing
Are some animals more worth saving than others?
Thai police discover 14 albino lions in warehouse near Bangkok
White lion breeding at UK wildlife parks linked to 'canned hunting'
Is the rise in antibiotic use on farms a threat to humans?
Stop using birdsong apps, nature reserve tells visitors
Cheetahs 'more powerful than a motorbike'
Meet Ming, the panda who left China to boost Britain's wartime morale
Badger cull activists can 'bend the rules' during protests, say police
RSPB accused of hypocrisy for killing hundreds of birds on its reserves
Wolf walking in Cumbria: the new leaders of the pack
Marine Harvest agrees to limit pesticides and seal killings
Schmallenberg vaccine available to UK farmers this summer
Cat wars break out in New Zealand
Racing pigeon sold for record £260,000
Most UK species in decline, wildlife stocktake shows
Hedgehogs are disappearing fast gardeners to the rescue
I've often seen bees infested with mites, but rarely one so heavily laden
Government licensed secret buzzard egg destruction, documents reveal
Hedgehogs have everything they need in this garden
China reports rise in humans encountering wild Siberian tigers
New to nature special: the top 10 new species
Zoo keeper mauled by tiger 'broke safety rules'
Industry, fires and poachers shrink Sumatran tigers' last stronghold
The swift is a bird that screams of the Earth's intricate interconnectedness
Tiger that killed zoo worker 'dragged her into its enclosure'
Culls risk illegally exterminating badgers, animal expert warns
Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis
My manifesto for rewilding the world
Ban Ki-moon to warn UN security council of dangers of wildlife trafficking
Beaver kills man in Belarus
GM 'hybrid' fish pose threat to natural populations, scientists warn
The beaver from Belarus and other deadly animals
Ants in Germany repeatedly ring woman's doorbell
A nightly procession of pheasants, ducks, deer and badgers in the garden
Visit Statistics