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Beijing Zoo is horrible

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I finally got around to visiting Beijing Zoo today. I’ve long read tales of how poorly kept the animals are, so wanted to go and see for myself.

Locating the ticket office there was the usual lack of sensible queuing, and a number of tourists on the periphery looking on in confusion as the throng shouted at the poor woman behind the counter. I’m still not sure why, but for the first time I queued like a Chinese person. By this I mean I walked to the front and put some money down, ignoring those standing alongside me. Remarkably this worked perfectly and a few seconds later I walked into the zoo, feeling an equal mixture of success and shame.

Beijing Zoo Panda

Not a very dignified pose

The first animal enclosure is the zoo’s big draw: the Giant Panda house. On entering, the first item on display is a panda skeleton, which isn’t very encouraging. Neither is the complete panda fur, hanging above.

Further in, I caught my first sight of a Giant Panda. It was less giant than I’d expected and trying to sleep whilst children banged on the glass with bottles. The next panda along was nowhere to be seen, which might explain the skin and bones at the entrance.

Outside, there was a far more natural looking environment, where a lone Panda sat boredly munching on some bamboo, which as I understand it is pretty much all that pandas do. This enclosure was quite a decent size and the animals are kept well away from the humans.

Further into the zoo is the monkey house. Again, this was a decent size enclosure, but there was less of a buffer between the animals and the visitors. Most of the visitors were shoving crisps and biscuits though the mesh. The apes seemed to prefer these to the fresh fruit and veg that lay untouched on the floor.

Apparently this is the point most tour groups leave, as they only really come for the Giant Pandas. Despite having seen almost all the other animals on offer in the wild, I carried on further into the zoo and wished I hadn’t.

Whereas the Panda and chimpanzee enclosures were fine, everything else was appalling:

  • The big cats were confined to tiny wooden rooms. In one 15×5 foot box, a leopard paced back and forth wailing horribly. In reaction to this, the Chinese visitors bang on the glass windows with bottles.
  • The wolf enclosure is slightly larger, but devoid of anything with which the animals can interact. The dishevelled wolves just lay on the dusty ground waiting to die.
  • The flightless bird area was similar. A beautiful Cassowary paced agitatedly round a flat square of mud, again with nothing to do.
  • At the penguin lake, a father was dangling his child over the safety wall, so that it could pee towards the birds in the water below.
  • The most disheartening area was the bear pit. The bears sit immobile, trapped in a featureless concrete pit surrounded by overhanging walkways. From here, Chinese tourists threw cakes, biscuits and in one case dried noodles, despite the obvious No Feeding sign. If the bear wanders off and sits further away visitors throw drinks bottles at it to make it move.
Beijing Zoo Bear

The bear pits at Beijing Zoo

Some of the most barren enclosures:

There are stories of certain animals being served up in the restaurant (hippo foot, anyone?) and big cats being fed live goats whilst visitors take photos. It’s not something we’re used to the in the West, but I don’t really have a problem with that the same as I didn’t have a problem with goat polo.

My problem with Beijing zoo is that whilst the human facilities are above the usual standard, the animal enclosures seem to have been an afterthought in the design of the zoo. Adding to this, the majority of visitors have no concept of animal rights. The staff could and should put a stop to this cruelty, but they’re nowhere to be seen.

I’m not one to get emotional about animals (unless they come with a tasty gravy), but if you’re going to trap them at least make their surroundings decent.

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Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

28 comments

  • Thanks for bringing this disgusting excuse of a zoo to my attention although I’m really not surprised at the way the animals are treated. With China’s human rights record I’m shocked they take any care of the poor beasts. Interesting post.

    Reply
  • i think they just charge 10rmb for the entrance? another reason why it’s poorly kept. have you been to the aquarium next door though? 120rmb and a bit better than zoo, though putting exotic fish in aquariums are no different.

    Reply
    • It’s 15rmb from April to October, then 10rmb for the rest of the year, and an extra 5 to see the Pandas.

      Thanks for the tip – I saw the aquarium, but it was rather late in the day so will give it a try next month.

      Reply
  • Did you get to go in the nocturnal area? Where it’s as creepy and humid as a dungeon inside and visitors do not put out the flash in their cameras while taking pictures of the animals (even if I think there’s a “No flash photography” sign).

    Poor Beijing Zoo 🙁

    Reply
    • Is that the part with the sloths? If the animals didn’t move fast enough the parents with cameras would encourage their children to bang bottles on the glass to make the sloths look up.

      Reply
  • When I visited the Beijing zoo back in 2006 I saw a mother let her child poop into the bear pit. My Chinese-American friends were shocked, and just said, “I am so ashamed that Chinese people are like this.”

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  • Such ashame to see those animals being treated that way but I’m not surprised at all. Why live goats for god sake!!!! In the wild, yes…that’s how big cats hunt but in a zoo???

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  • I mostly agree with your view. The part that stroke me the most was the big cats enclosure: concrete cells with dim light, little airing and small spaces for the animals to move. It looked more like the kind of perverse circus one could find the evil clown within, if you catch my drift. Or maybe an ancient coliseum waiting room for christian to be fed for the enjoyment of high-rank roman officials back in the day. The hippo and rhino enclosures were extremely small as well as disconforting for the animals. Besides, the rhino seemed to have a strange helix-twisted horn that a vet should have looked after long ago. Apart from that, the zoo was not all that bad, bearing in mind that it is placed within the capitol city of the most populated nation in the world, stuffed with cars and 9 lane highways all around, but of course a lot of room for improvement is still possible there.

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  • Was just there this last January 2012. One panda was banging on the steel gate trying to get inside the building, since it was -8 or -10 that day. The one of the big ape looked like… if you give it a gun it will just shoot himself in the head. Most enclosures was empty and barren. Most looked like what a Gestapo detention center would look like. Peeling paint, rusted bars etc… It was really bad. A marked difference from what Taipei Zoo is like.

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  • All the zoos in China should be avoidable for us like white people..I am from UK..Do really feel Chinese zoos r the worst in the whole world

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  • Having avoided the trip to the zoo for six months we ended up there last week, and regretted it so much. Grown men hammering on the glass of the small sleeping animals enclosed in their tiny cages… it just made us angry and sad. If anyone does go (prepare yourself mentally) but do stop the idiots from throwing plastic bottles at the bears and banging on the glass. The fools don’t see anything wrong with it, and if they are confronted, maybe they will think about. Maybe not. But you can’t stand back and do nothing. Idiots.

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  • Horrible, you should see the eliphant pits 🙁 such solitude, beautiful ( and massive animals) confined only to the space of 20 metres in a dark, metal cage! chained to the floor! That was just one example, every enclosure was disgusting… especially the nocturnal one. Avoid this zoo. All the animals are skinny and look sad

    Reply
  • Hi Steve,

    I just found your site, I love it!

    read you are into volunteering as well, I was hoping you would have a tip for me. I am looking around to find a volunteer position or internship with an animal rights or rescue organization. I am already here, but would love to find a place that works with animals that has more serious standards wrt animal rights.
    Thanks a million

    Domi

    Reply
  • Just stumbled across your blog pretty randomly and I’m amazed that I don’t see more blog posts or articles condemning the Beijing Zoo. We visited in 2010 so it’s been a few years, but after visiting gobs of zoos and aquariums in a handful of countries, this one still stands out as a horror or horrors. The worst were the predators – the wolves, big cats, and especially the bears. A group of teens were actually pouring a bottle of soda directly into the upturned mouth of one of the bears below. Normally we try to be sensitive to cultural differences when we travel, but I totally lost my cool. I tried to snatch the bottle from her hand but she just laughed and went back to pouring. I took a photo, thinking I could shame her. They just laughed some more. In hindsight, I can’t believe I didn’t make a big a** scene, go round up security, SOMEthing. Worst moment of our otherwise fun-filled two weeks in China.

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