The Chinese were coming to inspect the loaned animals and matters would come to a head. “How much of a problem can it be?” The new public relations officer wanted this solved, his predecessor had managed to keep it out of the press, thank and praise all divine mercies, but... “Stake out the local bamboo groves, there can’t be that many of them.”
“There aren’t any,” said the keeper baldly. “We’ve checked and rechecked. Spoken to gardeners, warned them.”
“What’s it been living on then?” The PR officer picked up the brochure from his desk and opened it. “They only eat bamboo.”
“A common misconception,” replied the keeper. “They mainly eat bamboo, and they digest that poorly. Their insides are made for meat. In their native setting that’s usually rodents and fawns.”
“Then why eat all this bamboo?” The PR man was puzzled.
“I don’t know,” the keeper admitted. “My wife used to joke that they became Buddhist and turned vegetarian. This one escaped during the lambing season. Then there were calves. As the lambs and the calves got bigger, it’s gotten better at hunting.”
“You’re telling me that a cute and cuddly male panda is living wild in this country by preying on farm animals?” The public relations officer snorted. “That’s a public relations nightmare.”
“It’s a nightmare if people think it’s cute, cuddly and safe to go up to,” corrected the keeper. “It’s a bear. Okay, it’s the weird cousin with the funny hair colour, but it’s a bear. It’s the size of four wolves, almost the size of a tiger and it likes eating meat.”
“But not dangerous to humans? The backlash if we shot it...” The public relations officer shuddered.
“You think?” The keeper snorted then added, “Did they tell you why your job was vacant?”