Prof publishes case study of panda negotiations

The giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao have recently arrived at the Toronto Zoo from China, where they are expected to stay for the next five years, but what do negotiations for endangered species entail? Schulich School of Business Professor Stephen Weiss has a pretty good idea.

His eye-opening case study, “Negotiating about Pandas for San Diego Zoo”, was just published on Harvard Law School’s website as a StephenWeissteaching case for the Program on Negotiation.

Stephen Weiss

“The San Diego Zoo negotiated the world’s first long-term panda loan with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, one of the two official sources for giant pandas, and set the template for subsequent panda loans,” said Weiss, a professor of policy and international business.

He has spent the last seven years researching the San Diego Zoo’s original negotiations for a 12-year agreement and the re-negotiations of that loan, from 2005 to 2008, assisted by Schulich alumna Sarah Tatrallyay (IMBA ’10).

“Those ground-breaking negotiations offer extraordinary lessons for all negotiators. What initially attracted me to news about the talks was how dramatically they illustrated a classic negotiation challenge: how to achieve a satisfactory agreement when your counterpart has so much more bargaining power,” said Weiss. “There is only one place [country] in the world to obtain pandas. There are few of them and every zoo in the world aspires to have them. Pandas are the ‘rock stars’ of the zoo world. As it turned out, San Diego had to deal with much more than questions of bargaining power, both at the table and beyond it. The zoo succeeded – through creativity, resourcefulness and persistence. It was an amazing accomplishment.”

Dave Towne, president of the Maryland, U.S.-based Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which organized the efforts of the four American zoos that have pandas – San Diego, Atlanta, Memphis and National in Washington, D.C. – said the San Diego negotiations formed the underpinning for all subsequent negotiations in the US.

His negotiation case study is a significant contribution to the understanding of the intricate cross-cultural and political nuances involved in animal conservation and other environmentally sensitive sectors, said Towne. “Weiss’s research sheds light on the complex process of developing mutually agreeable contracts with sometimes friendly and sometimes very difficult foreign and domestic governing authorities. It is a great example of tenacity, patience and skill.”

This case is targeted to readers outside the “zoo world”, especially graduate students and professionals in business, law and international relations.

To read Weiss’s insights and his detailed case, visit Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation website.