Pushing Back Against Panda Prisons: An Interview with Donny Moss

Care2 is pleased to share this interview conducted with Donny Moss, which he was gracious enough to find time for in his busy protest schedule. Donny is an activist campaigning hard against a New York City-based Democratic congresswoman’s attempts to bring captive Chinese pandas for display in the city.

Hello Donny. Thank you for taking the time to share with the Care2 community today. You’ve been on the ground actively protesting Carolyn Maloney’s efforts to bring Chinese pandas over for display in New York City. What kind of response are you getting from the public so far?

In addition to the petition and other social media outreach, we’ve staged two protests at high profile events in NYC [editor's note: see above], and, in both cases, the vast majority of people who engaged with us stated that they, too, oppose the importation and display of pandas in NYC. During our most recent protest, we had dramatic face-to-face confrontations with the two billionaires who are backing U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s plan to import pandas in NYC. We were surprised that they didn’t access the building through a side entrance in order to avoid us. To my surprise, one of the two billionaires, John Catsimatidis, contacted me the day after our public confrontation to invite me onto his radio show to debate the issue. It airs on Sunday [December 24].

In this particular campaign, we do not think that polite calls from her constituents or an outcry from the general public will compel Congresswoman Maloney to call off her plans. We are probably going to have to become increasingly disruptive.

This is a broad, multi-faceted issue, and you’ve indicated that there are implications beyond the welfare of the specific pandas that would be on display here. What are the policy implications for either country if American money flows to China for the rental of pandas to U.S. zoos, in terms of animal welfare, conservation, or otherwise?

If China was interested in the welfare of the pandas, then the country would stop breeding them in captivity and focus instead on preserving them in their natural habitat. Hundreds of pandas already exist in captivity, and the country can use these animals in the experimental release program in which it is slowly introducing captive-bred pandas into the wild.

Breeding pandas in captivity and leasing them to foreign countries for display does nothing to conserve them in the wild, where they belong. If China is truly interested in conservation, then the country needs to preserve the pandas’ natural habitat, which is slowly being destroyed to make space for the country’s growing population.

The welfare of the pandas appears to be an afterthought, if that. The fact that China leases pandas and that zoos pay a rental fee to display them demonstrates that these animals are commodities, not individuals who, like us, simply want to be free.

You may be familiar with the Great Ape Project, a campaign to confer actual rights (not just protections) on non-human apes, our species’ closest living relatives and some of the smartest animals in the world. This would certainly preclude humans from keeping them in zoos, though a stronger stance would be to oppose zoos altogether. Where do you fall on that continuum? Does the rich social and emotional life of a panda make the expansion of the captive species population particularly egregious, or is it just one example of a larger problem?

I’m opposed to zoos because I don’t think animals exist to be displayed for our entertainment or for any other reason. Over time, as more people learn about the inherent cruelty of captivity, I think that zoos will morph into sanctuaries for local animals in need of rescue and rehabilitation.

While some animal rights groups work to educate the public about the cruelty of all animal captivity, others have been working to liberate elephants, cetaceans and great apes, who are the most intelligent and perhaps the most aware of their plight. The fact that the public sympathizes with these particular animals, as demonstrated by the impact of the documentary Blackfish, is assuredly helping the organizations advocating on their behalf. I’m grateful to any organization that is working to free any animal from captivity.

Do you put any stock in the argument that helping city-dwellers to see wild animals improves their appreciation for the importance of species conservation and habitat protection? Is there a better way of achieving those ends?

People go to zoos because it’s a form of entertainment–not because they’re interested in learning about them or because they’re concerned about preserving them in their natural habitat. After all, what can we possibly learn by observing animals pacing back and forth in a zoo enclosure?

In order to make a video to launch the “No Panda Prison NYC” campaign, I went to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to document pandas in their indoor glass enclosures. I noticed that the vast majority of visitors spent more time taking selfies with the pandas in the background than actually observing the pandas. Just as troubling was the fact that hardly anyone stopped to read the plaques with information about the pandas.

In my opinion, visiting zoos does nothing more than reinforce speciesism: the idea that humans are superior to other animals and are entitled to exploit them for our own purposes. If people really want to learn about wild animals, they can watch natural history programs on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet or National Geographic that document how animals live in wild. Perhaps then they will be more compelled to support the conservation of these animals in their natural habitat.

What can supporters do to help?

Follow our Facebook page, “No Panda Prison NYC”,and join us when we post online actions in our effort to stop Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from importing pandas from China and putting them on display in NYC.

Thanks, Donny. We really appreciate your time here and your efforts to stand up both for the pandas and humanity’s better moral nature.

Photo credit: LongLiveRock


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Chad A
Chad Anderson6 months ago


Lesa D
Lesa D9 months ago

oops! that was #65773!!!

Lesa D
Lesa D9 months ago

#65733 petition signed...

thank you, Donny...

Peggy B
Peggy B10 months ago


Sherri S
Sherri S10 months ago

A big thank you Mr. Moss for fighting so hard for animal rights.

Winn A
Winn A10 months ago


Marija M
Marija M10 months ago

Donny you are right, tks.

Michele B
Michele B10 months ago

NO animal needs to be in a cement prison..for any reason

Arlene C
Arlene C10 months ago