Captive breeding programs have been lauded as a way to engage the public in conservation efforts, but they have also been criticized sharply for detracting from habitat protection efforts that might be more effective at boosting panda numbers. According to Marc Bekoff, an ethologist and expert on conservation issues, captive breeding programs don't quite serve the purpose for which they've been established.
"I love pandas and I wish that they were in a better state in the wild ... but I'm just not convinced that these programs work out well in terms of getting pandas out there," Bekoff told National Geographic. "I think these programs have been going on long enough that we should see more progress made... It's almost like: Breed and pray that something works out."
Additionally, some of the skepticism about captive breeding programs centers on whether the setup adds strain to pandas' already challenging mating process. "If the bears were in the wild, they would likely have mating opportunities with other partners," David Owen writes in a New Yorker report on captive breeding programs. "[They] would thus be able to learn from experience or to encounter more skillful hookups. In [zoos], though, they're stuck with each other." And for pandas, being stuck together often isn't motivation enough.