On a recent trip to Guangzhou to renew my passport my boyfriend Josh and I decided to take a little extra time to explore one of the largest cities in southern China. A colleague told us about a wonderful zoo in Guangzhou called Chimelong with a safari park where visitors can see not only native Chinese wildlife, but also animal species from all around the world. She told us the park was easily accessible via the subway system, so we decided to take the afternoon and visit. Little did we know that there are several animal parks and zoos in Guangzhou, and so when we boarded the subway and headed toward the metro stop named “Zoo” we were not heading toward Chimelong but rather to the Guangzhou Zoo or as we now call it the saddest zoo in China.
Within 5 minutes of arriving at the Guangzhou Zoo we knew something was amiss. Our colleague had described a large, open zoo with a safari park and Jeep rides, but what we saw were small cages and desolate enclosures. We saw lions stressfully pacing back and forth in cages no more than 15 feet wide; monkeys with open sores playing with plastic bottles that had been thoughtlessly thrown into their enclosure; and one elephant who simply stared at a wall shaking its head.There were also horse rides and camel rides at the zoo, but the animals looked far too pitiful for a ride. Perhaps my least favorite area was a turtle tank that was also used as a money collection tank, a giant turtle bank if you will.
We went to the animal show, which promised an insightful look at animal behavior, but it was more like a 1970s circus with bears riding bikes and monkeys on tightropes being motivated by the crack of a whip. There was also a human show which was much more interesting as it had a series of Chinese acrobatic performers, none of which were whipped or cowed. I also enjoyed the Butterfly Garden which was an indoor atrium with hundreds of butterflies flying free, unfortunately for every butterfly there were two mosquitoes. On our visit a number of exhibits including the Animal & Earthquake Museum of Popular Science, Ocean World and the Science Exhibition Hall were closed. We did not stay at the zoo very long, but the images from that day will haunt us forever. If visiting Guangzhou I highly recommend you do not visit the Guangzhou Zoo.
Ghandi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If this is true there is still great need for improvement in China. However, with other pressing issues like human rights, the environment and freedom of information it hardly seems like animal rights will be an issue of importance anytime soon. My colleague has encouraged Josh and me to return to Guangzhou and visit Chimelong which is a much more respected zoo, but I hesitate. I think I’ve had enough of Chinese zoos for the time being.