TODAY

TODAY   |  February 21, 2013

Are adorable pandas worth the price of saving?

It’s easy to see why the undeniably adorable giant panda is the poster animal of the conservation movement, but a growing number of wildlife experts are questioning whether it’s sensible to invest millions of dollars into one species. NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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>>> back now at 8:39. no denying pandas are cute and cuddly looking. so why are some scientists questioning efforts to save them from extension? here's nbc's kate snow .

>> reporter: it's easy to see why pandas are the poster bears of the conservation movement . they're undeniably adorable. they're cute.

>> very cute, incredibly cute.

>> reporter: sara, a wildlife conservationist has been working here in china for 13 years.

>> they're very cuddly looking, very round cheeks and big eyes. all those eyes, all those characteristics make them almost look like a human infant . i think that infantile appearance engenders our want to protect protect.

>> reporter: and protecting the giant panda is what this place is all about. with so few pandas left in the wild, scientists here have been breeding pandas in captivity. these cubs are just four months old. we were given the rare opportunity to scrub up and go into the nursery where keepers watch over them.

>> hi. hey.

>> reporter: these little guys spend their days sleeping, eating. this little one is just learning how to walk.

>> you are too cute. look at you.

>> you can touch him.

>> can i?

>> yeah.

>> hi.

>> reporter: more than 100 cubs have been born here since it opened in 1987 .

>> it's almost become like an industry, trying to make as many pandas as possible.

>> i would say that's a fair way to explain it.

>> reporter: an industry dedicated to saving the panda. what could be wrong with that?

>> i think that pouring millions and millions of dollars into one species, albeit incredibly cute animal is wrong.

>> reporter: a wildlife expert for the bbc, one of a growing number of scientists says with so many species becoming extinct it makes no sense to save just one.

>> reporter: some say who are you to play god and decide we shouldn't save the panda.

>> who are they to play god? they picked a cute cuddly one. why don't they pick a snail or caterpillar or fly. they are already playing god , survival of the cutest.

>> reporter: sara says pandas are more than cute animals, a symbol of hope for the conservation movement .

>> if we truly can not save giant pandas , what does that say about us as a species and how can we have hope for any of the others if we can't save the one we profess to love the most.

>> reporter: at chung du, they're convinced the millions spent to save this species is all worth it.

>> you can see more at rock sender with brian williams , tomorrow, 9:00 central time on