British wildlife expert Chris Packham says we've devoted too much money to captive breeding of pandas and not enough to habitat conservation - to the point where there's not enough wild habitat left to sustain the species, and we should just let the animal go.
The point has been made before about how charismatic species suck up most of the resources available for conservation, and the degree of effort which should be devoted to captive breeding is the subject of never-ending debate. However, it is because of the charismatic species that habitat often gets conserved. And the symbolism of letting the panda go extinct is unthinkable - if we can't save the world's most beloved mammal, is there any hope for the bugs?
A couple of data points: The California condor was saved from certain extinction by captive breeding and is now re-established in the wild. The ivory-bill sighting a few years ago led to a big tract in Arkansas being conserved. Even though I fear we have lost the fight for the ivory-bill (if I had to bet, I'd say a few are still alive, but not a viable population), the mere possibility of its survival led to the saving of important habitat for countless species.
So, my response to Chris is: NO WAY. We need the panda. We need it to be a success story like the condor and the bald eagle and the whooping crane. We may not be able to save every species, but we're committed on this one. May the panda live forever!