It’s a pretty gross understatement to say that zoos in China are in the media limelight for their mistreatment of animals. From the 11 Siberian tigers found starved to death, to the heartbreaking discovery of the animal mass grave and the fatal attack on a keeper by a starving Bengal tiger at our own Shanghai Zoo, Chinese zoos and wildlife parks have gotten quite the reputation for being zoos from hell. Here, we bring you part one of a three-part series on our experiences at the Shanghai Zoo – unfortunately, it was unpleasant, to say the least.
Last weekend, we went to the Shanghai Zoo to see our local zoological gardens in light of everything happening at animal “sanctuaries” around the country. After four hours spent walking through the immense park, home to over 600 species, my companion found the perfect word to describe the zoo: inconsistent.
Some animals, especially the ten pandas in town for the Expo, are crowd favorites and plump VIPs who roll around in newly-constructed, large, bright enclosures. No question there that they are well looked after. But others, like the dogs, have been reduced to the most pathetic of creatures, kept in cramped conditions with no escape from their own filth and waste.
Surprised that there are dogs on display at the zoo? So were we. On the zoo map, there is a section clearly marked ‘Bailing Pets World’ – not the cute petting zoo I had in mind, but a section of small, barred cages containing emaciated versions of every pure breed domestic canine imaginable.
Obvious fact of the day: big dogs do not belong in such small enclosures, with no room to exercise. However, they were so skinny that perhaps they wouldn’t have the energy to run around if they could. Their barred cages were bereft of any sort of material comforts, such as toys or even a rug to sleep on – most dogs, especially the Great Dane, exhibited festering sores from lying on concrete all day. Other dogs had cuts and bruises that had been left untreated.
Most Chinese visitors seemed as appalled as we were by the conditions the dogs were in. “How pitiful…” was a common sentiment, while children ran around shrieking about the overpowering stench emanating from some cages, especially the ones containing the Huskies. But their sympathy didn’t mean they let the poor creatures alone – some visitors kept feeding the dogs everything from sausages to corn to cookies, which could be a justifiable impulse since the creatures were so darn thin; others were yelling at the cages, trying to provoke the dogs into barking, though they just stared back with sunken eyes.
On our way out of Bailing Pets World, a.k.a. Hell for Dogs, we saw a comparatively healthy-looking Dalmatian. He was a beautiful creature, and gave me hope that perhaps not all dogs on display were maltreated. “Ha,” scoffed my companion. “He’s probably a new addition. Look at his paper label, it hasn’t even been rained on. This is the worst pound ever.” Dashed hopes.