Adorably plump squirrels that have captured the hearts of Chinese netizens have also prompted warnings from Chinese state media that overfeeding animals may cause them more harm than good.
CCTV News has blamed the throngs of visitors to Hangzhou’s iconic West Lake for making the squirrels living in trees around the lake “obese” by excessively feeding them unhealthy things like junk food. Experts from the Hangzhou Zoo told CCTV that overfeeding squirrels can affect their livers,reproductive capacities, and may even diminish their ability to hide from predators.
With the country’s population facing a looming obesity epidemic, eating properly is a growing concern in China. And yet, “fat squirrels” is a phenomenon that has already been occurring around the world for reasons that don’t necessarily include overfeeding.
Abnormally portly squirrels were reported by UK news media in January of this year while Canadian news noticed the trend a month before. And although feeding by humans contributed to their voluminous size, the phenomenon was mostly attributed to an unseasonably mild winter experienced on both continents, which has left squirrels around the world both fat and happy.
Animal experts note that squirrels tend to put on more weight during the winter. Because they are animals that don’t hibernate, squirrels rely on extra fat reserves to help them make it through to the spring.
And like the wallet belonging to the latest high-tech start-up CEO, squirrels may look fatter than they actually are. “With the extra layers of fat and thicker winter coat this can make them look much bigger,” nature expert Iolo Williams told the Telegraph.
Despite the concern shown by the Hangzhou Zoo, animal experts like David Sugarman from the Ontario Science Center said we needn’t worry about obese squirrels. “[Eventually] the snow is going to come, the cold weather will increase and they’re going to burn off some of that extra fat,” Sugarman told Toronto’s Metro News.
At the same time, squirrels in Canada likely aren’t getting the kind of attention as they do at West Lake. In China, squirrels are a relative novelty, particularly for those living in cities.
Squirrels are kind of a big deal in Hangzhou. pic.twitter.com/X2pG5a3xqi
— Shanghaiist.com (@shanghaiist) October 4, 2016
Squirrel feeding is so popular with visitors to West Lake that tourists are often seen using sticks with food mounted to the end to feed the tree-dwelling rodents, making overfeeding a daily occurrence.
Trending under the Weibo hashtag “FatLittleWestLakeSquirrels,”, photos of the chubby chestnut hoarders have prompted numerous responses from Chinese netizens. “Roly poly! So cute!” one Weibo user exclaimed, while another suggested that they “go on a diet.” Yet another netizen doesn’t like the new look, saying: “At first glance, I thought it was a rat.”
By Charles Liu
[Images via Weibo / Yangtze Evening Report / Shanxi Daily / CCTV]
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