We’ve heard a lot about Chinese zoos in the last few months. 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, Chinese zoos and wildlife parks have gotten quite the reputation for being zoos from hell. Here, we bring you part two of a three-part series on why our own Shanghai Zoo experience was an unpleasant one.
Our trip to the Shanghai Zoo last weekend was certainly an illuminating experience. What struck us the most was the inconsistency of the place, with some animals (read: Very Important Pandas) rolling in relative luxury while others, like the dogs discussed in Part 1 of our zoo posts, were reduced to living in squalid conditions.
They’re just dogs, some might say. After all, people are known for eating them in this country, so Bailing Pets World is a step up.
Well, then, let’s talk about some bigger, endangered creatures — elephants, specifically those performing in the zoo’s daily elephant shows that are scheduled at 10 and 11:30 in the mornings, and 2:15 and 3:15 in the afternoons, with an additional show at 1:15 on weekends. Talk about stretching your elephants – that’s a lot of shows for elephants to be performing in each day; in comparison, elephant shows at other zoos I’ve been to (outside China) only run twice daily.
Ten minutes into the show, we developed a great hypothesis of why these performances are so frequent: these elephants from faraway Yunnan need to earn their keep. In fact, the entire performance should be called Come See People Pay to Ride Elephants and Feed Them.
How the zoo makes money from the elephant show:
- Admission to the show is RMB 10 if purchased with your zoo entry ticket, otherwise it’s RMB 20 at the gate.
- Before the show starts, and after, audience members have the chance to get their picture taken atop an elephant (RMB 20) and/or ride one (RMB 30).
- During the show, audience members are encouraged to buy carrots to feed the elephants, RMB 5 per pack. Carrots are distributed for sale throughout the show’s 25-minute running time.
Our elephant show experience went something like this:
Before the elephants entered the performance space, they were visible in an enclosure in the back. A guy smoking a cigarette walked back and forth in front of them, and at one point kicked an elephant that was a bit unruly. Stupid move.
The show was scheduled to start at 1:15, but at 1:25, people were still posing with animals and riding them. “Are we just here to watch people riding elephants?” my companion fumed.
Then the show finally began – or so we thought. After a short intro and performance, it turned into a “feed the elephants” session, with the audience rushing forward to buy carrots. It was pandemonium as people pushed and jostled each other for the privilege of waving carrots in the elephants’ faces.
As long as there was a supply of carrot-feeders, some elephants were allowed to remain by the side of the ring to be fed while others continued performing. Our view from the first row was blocked thanks to the massive elephant and the crowd of people right in our line of vision. People weren’t just fighting to feed them carrots – we saw someone slip an elephant a banana peel (acceptable), and some Pocky (not acceptable).
As soon as the show was over, the elephant keepers once again opened up the ring for potential customers to pose with and/or ride the elephants. Poor, tired creatures.
Conclusion: the elephant show at the Shanghai Zoo is only delightful if you are a child. For us, it was one heck of a cringe-worthy spectacle.