Nigel MArven is fighting the good fight for the pandas (photo: Matthew Wright)
Interview 22 October

Nigel Marven interview: "I kept an eel in the bath"

Nigel Marven, Chengdu’s Panda Ambassador, is fighting the good fight for wildlife in China. Here he talks about his recent series, Panda Week

Why are pandas such a worthy cause?

Nigel Marvin: They’re a worldwide treasure. If we neglect the pandas, they won’t be the only species we lose. The bamboo forests, their natural habitat, are home to all sorts of other animals – golden monkeys, takin, salamanders – so conservation efforts mean that they’re protected too.

Will we get to see these efforts in practice?

Nigel Marvin: Yes – my favourite example is our film of Chengdu Breeding Centre’s birth monitoring. Pandas often give birth to twins, but the mother rarely has enough milk for both babies. In the centre, they take one baby away, feed it, and then swap them over. She doesn’t seem to know or care that she has another cub, and that way both can survive – it’s ingenious.

Naturalist Chris Packham caused an uproar when he said we should allow pandas to die out naturally. Do you think you’ve proved him wrong?

Nigel Marvin: You can’t go picking and choosing whether or not to save an animal – where on earth would you stop? Thankfully, the panda’s story is a positive one – and encouragement for similar projects all over the world.

Can tourism exist in harmony with conservation?

Nigel Marvin: Yes. If travellers are willing to pay to visit the pandas and stay in eco-friendly places, the Chinese people will appreciate how valuable their wildlife is. Responsible tour operators work with ground agents who ensure that money goes straight to conservation projects – it’s all about maintaining balance and respect.

So when’s the best time to visit the pandas?

Nigel Marvin: Head over in March when they’re mating – it’s a seminal time! The males make lots of noise to attract the females. To see wild pandas, set aside 10-14 days and go between September and November. In the summer they feed high in the mountains, which can mean very hard trekking, but later in the year they dwell lower down.

How do you plan to use your ambassadorship?

Nigel Marvin: I’ll continue to work with the Chengdu authorities, but I’d also like to promote the preservation of more maligned species, like reptiles. Conservation is in my blood – I once  kept an eel in the family bathtub to save it from being jellied. My mum wasn’t best pleased.

Nigel Marvin presented Panda Week, which was broadcast on channel five in September 2010.