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.
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.
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.