Beijing Zoo

Whether we like it or not (and I generally don’t) a zoo can be a very important tool in conservation, research and many other things relating to animal welfare and protection.
From what I saw, Beijing zoo fits none of the above criteria.

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I had a few days in China, and I wanted to see a panda in its native country. I didn’t have time to go to the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, so the zoo was my only option.

I’d read plenty on www.tripadvisor.com about the zoo, and everything said roughly the same. Go, don’t expect general European standards, and you won’t be disappointed.

Steeling myself, I hopped on the underground and made the trip, bought my ticket and entered, heading first to see the object of my desires.

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Yes, I was disappointed. I saw pandas in their home country, but evidently not in their home environment. As always in zoos, they were caged, and behind glass. Dirty, uncleaned for months glass, with big signs saying “do not bang on the glass” which was totally ignored by the thousands of small children, as their parents stood idly by, ignoring the signs too.

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Pandas are an endangered species, they must be protected, and I’m sure, by Chinese standards, they are doing well. They had some space, they had ample food, they had a small amount of water. They didn’t have places to go and hide from the millions of people passing their windows every year, but the zoo goers would have been disappointed if they didn’t see them.

But it wasn’t really the panda that disappointed me so.

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It was pretty much every other poor animal in that godforsaken place. Agreed, they are safe from harm of predation but not from the mental problems that come from boredom. These little creatures had food, and space, but precious little in the way of entertainment. A couple of branches, but that was it. Nothing else.

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This beautiful beast, with what appeared to be several open sores on the right hand side, showed the usual bored animal habit of pacing up and down the same worn path time and time again, not enough space to run a single step if it wanted to.

After this I stopped taking pictures, it was too painful. The hippo had water, it had loads of water, an entire pool of water. However if it wanted to leave the water it had approximately one square metre of land to waddle onto, not even enough to lie on. There were loads of water bottles in its pool too, with young kids throwing bottles at it, trying to hit it.

The elephants, at around 11 in the morning were still in their concrete enclosures, scarcely large enough to turn round it.There was no food or water in any of the enclosures.  One of them was so desperate to get out he appeared to be hurting himself, smashing his front leg against the gate.

The giraffe enclosure was tiny, without a blade of grass.

After that, I left, I couldn’t face seeing any more.

The thing that I found hardest to understand was why were the animal cages so small, and yet, directly behind them were large tracts of land, beautifully cultivated with flowers and ornate pathways for visitors to enjoy. Surely it would be better to enlarge the living area of those poor beasts.

I’ve been, and even if I was to visit Beijing again, I’d NEVER go back to this zoo. It’s a disgrace, and an example of how I imagine zoos must have been back in less enlightened times.

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About bobleponge216

Elderly rotund toothless male seeks wilderness to travel to.
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10 Responses to Beijing Zoo

  1. It sounds as though the owners of that establishment have yet to make the conceptual leap from zoo as a place of entertainment for visitors, to a place where nature’s most vulnerable creatures are cared for and nurtured, the visitors being the providers of funds to enable the real work. True, there has to be entertainment, otherwise the only visitors would be conservation-minded folk, most likely not in sufficient numbers to fund real conservation work. That entertainment will also involve keeping key ambassador species, regardless of conservation status. Ambassador species are needed to draw the crowds, but that does not mean that their physical and behavioural/emotional needs are any less important than those kept primarily or solely for conservation reasons.
    However, those are our current standards, standards that have evolved during my lifetime and are still evolving. I am always nervous about condemning people for having standards that differ from mine – after all, battery farms and crate-reared calves are western phenomena, and many beef cattle in the US never see grass, something that I, living in beef cattle country, consider to be shamefully wrong.
    We routinely eat animals that are considered unclean or even sacred in some cultures, yet we condemn others for eating animals to which we have an emotional attachment.
    Having said all that, I would most likely have shared your revulsion at conditions there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your points are all valid, relevant and agreed with. Conservation in zoos is something that has only relatively recently started worldwide. in Chungdu the Chinese have a panda research centre that apparently is a very good conservation and research facility in the preservation of this ambassador species. Ergo we can deduce that the concept isn’t unknown in China.
      That the owners of this particular zoo choose to favour the panda over other creatures is also understandable. Over 1 million visitors per year, a reasonable proportion will be foreigners. There is a ticket available in the zoo pricing system to only see the panda. If these were being kept in appalling conditions there would be outrage once the visitors returned home, pretty much as there is currently with the polar bear in Argentina.
      Sadly zoos are important these days, loss of habitat, predation and smuggling of CITES animals mean that we must conserve what we have left.
      Even more sad is that this zoo only sees what you said in your opening paragraph, with the welfare of the animals being not even a secondary concern.

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  2. verypleather says:

    I’ve wanted to see a live panda since I was a baby, and even though it looks a horrid place, I would pay to go in, because it is there. That is the terrible truth. A truth which allows the place to go on regardless of what is ‘right’ because people will come to look. When Warner Bros opened its theme park in Dortmund it had elephants standing on tiny stools, an animal show. My oldest yelled and screamed, but no way were we patronising it, and made our feelings very clear to the staff. How lucky we were able to do that. I fear criticism from its inhabitants to the governors would not be tolerated so peacefully. When life is cheap, all life is cheap.

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    • That’s the reason why I went too, I’d wanted to see a panda since I can remember.
      I suspect there is little criticism from locals to the management of the zoo, but possibly not for the reasons you suspect. As Keith said in his comment, the advancements in animal treatment in western zoos has evolved enormously, just in our lifetime. What the locals are seeing in Bejing zoo just isn’t out of the ordinary, or inhumane to them.

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  3. Nikki says:

    Thank you (I think 😉 for reminding me of the zoos of my childhood… and how far we have generally come in our treatment of animals in captivity. But, even as a child, I couldn’t handle the primate section… couldn’t bear to look into those eyes without feeling pain. I’m grateful that, with the advances in wildlife reserves and photographic technology, we can now visit animals in their habitat rather than drag them into ours.

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    • Was a difficult decision to take to be honest. I was prepared for it being not good, but the urge to see a panda for real was just too strong. I’m not a fan of zoos, although I accept that they can serve a real purpose when they’re run correctly.
      Luckily, as you rightly say, we have moved on so much in a very short space of time.

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      • Nikki says:

        I’m glad that you not only made the decision to go, but had the courage to share what you saw and how you felt about it. I think it caused those of us who read your post and saw your photos to ponder some truths, both philosophical and visceral.

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      • Many thanks.
        The next post should be much more light hearted, totally at my expense.

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  4. Pingback: Travel Guide for Beijing Zoo | Tourders Story

  5. Pingback: Travel Guide for Beijing Zoo | 360 Travelling

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