It isn’t easy being an animal in a Chinese zoo. 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, zoological gardens and wildlife parks in China have gotten quite a hellish reputation. Now, we bring you the final part of a three-part series on what made our own Shanghai Zoo experience a stressful one.
This week, we’ve highlighted some aspects of our premier city zoo that left a bad taste in our mouths: the squalid living conditions of the zoo’s canines, and the money-making spectacles a.k.a. the zoo’s daily elephant shows. But as much as we’d like to keep deriding the zoo’s mistreatment of certain animals, we realized that the shameful behavior of visitors themselves was also to blame for the zoo’s unpleasantness.
If animal enclosures were littered with trash, the fault lay with visitors who carelessly tossed garbage around. We watched as a man casually flicked his bare skewer stick into the tiger enclosure. Plastic packaging was similarly tossed into cages and pits. A plastic bottle cap made its way into the orangutan enclosure, which was picked up and chewed on by a young male.
Despite the prominent “no feeding” signs placed around the enclosures, visitors fed the animals sausages, bread, crackers, stinky tofu, and chocolate. On one hand, perhaps they did so because some animals looked like they were in desperate need of food. On the other hand, people seemed unaware that giving animals random snacks might do more harm than good.
At least there was some sort of benevolent intent behind feeding the animals — other visitors maliciously teased them just to provoke a reaction. They yelled at the animals, rattled bars, and hit glass barriers. One little boy at Bailing Pets World tried squirting at the dogs with his water bottle; a man visiting the orangutans actually lit his lighter against the glass to provoke them, before being told off by my companion.
The sad fact is that many Chinese visitors lack an awareness of how to treat animals, and place very little importance on animal welfare in general. Children were encouraged to feed and tease dogs, monkeys, birds, and deer by elders who didn’t know any better themselves. Zoo goers acting the way they do isn’t going to help improve the conditions of China’s zoos and wildlife parks anytime soon.