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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.