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“Harming National Treasures”: Lanzhou Zoo Sparks Controversy (Again) for Apparent Panda Negligence

Visitor photos of a mouth-foaming, lethargic-looking panda at Lanzhou Zoo has caused outrage on Weibo. As the zoo’s conditions are called into question for the umpteenth time, some say that China’s so-called ‘national treasures’ (国宝) are not being treated equally. The controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict control over the pandas it sends abroad.

Manya Koetse

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Visitor photos of a mouth-foaming, lethargic-looking panda at Lanzhou Zoo has caused outrage on Weibo. As the zoo’s conditions are called into question for the umpteenth time, some say that China’s so-called ‘national treasures’ (国宝) are not being treated equally. The controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict control over the pandas it sends abroad.

In early February, a concerned Chinese netizen (@木Ei) posted photos and videos of a seemingly unhealthy and mouth-foaming panda at the Lanzhou Zoo (兰州五泉山动物园) in Gansu province, writing:

“Please help me forward this. Our ‘national treasures’ really receive unequal treatment. China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center, please get involved. The panda at Lanzhou Zoo is thin and filthy, with what looks like a skin condition on its back. It makes visitors really feel bad. Many zoos have no conditions to keep pandas, please take the pandas back and take good care of them. Don’t just use them to make a good picture while not treating all of our ‘national treasures’ as actual national treasures, it’s really heartbreaking!”

Photos of the panda went viral on February 13 after the female netizen forwarded her post to various media. Chinese state media outlet Global Times re-posted the woman’s post on their official account, saying: “We don’t understand, sending it forward to the experts at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the State Forestry Administration.”

 

“Probably the most miserable panda in the world.”

 

The giant panda is China’s most beloved animal; it the cultural symbol of China and is generally called a ‘national treasure’ (国宝). Its well-being and protection, both in the wilderness as in captivity, has been a state priority since the 1960s, when China’s first wild animal protection reserve focused on panda protection was opened in northern Sichuan (Wanglang Reserve, 1965) (Songster 2004, 110).

Apart from the pandas that are kept at China’s various panda reserves, there are also pandas at zoos across China, from Beijing to Chongqing, and from Guilin to Guangzhou. The zoo in Lanzhou has been keeping pandas for years, during which it has caused controversy multiple times.

Previously in 2013, 2015, and 2016, netizens posted photos of the apparent unhealthy pandas at the Lanzhou Zoo and expressed their concerns over their well-being.

In 2013 and 2015, social media users criticized the zoo’s conditions and shared photos of the seemingly dirty and skinny giant panda ‘Lanzai.’ Some netizens called him “probably the most miserable panda in the world”. But the zoo’s authorities soon denied that Lanzai was being neglected.

In 2016, netizens also expressed concerns when the fur of panda ‘Shulan’ (蜀兰) was blood-stained and discolored. Zoo staff explained that the panda had been treated by veterinarians after suffering a cut from a piece of bamboo, and stated that any accusations of maltreatment were ungrounded.

As the zoo’s conditions are now sparking controversy for the umpteenth time, many people are outraged and say that the Lanzhou Zoo is harming them and is simply not equipped to take care of pandas.

Photos of Lanzhou Zoo taken by netizens on Weibo who argue that the living conditions of the animals are below the mark.

Some netizens point out that other animals in the Lanzhou Zoo, such as the bears and the lions, are also neglected and that their living conditions are below the mark.

 

Pandas abroad: “The waterfall was deemed ‘too noisy’ for the pandas.”

 

The Lanzhou Zoo controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict regulations over the conditions for the pandas it sends abroad. A recent ‘panda diplomacy’ agreement with a zoo in the Netherlands illustrates just how strict the rules are to guarantee the well-being and utmost comfort for the Chinese pandas.

After negotiating for years, the renowned Dutch Zoo Ouwehands reached an agreement with the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association in 2015 that it would receive two giant pandas for a period of maximum 15 years. Besides the annual funding the Zoo will contribute to the Wolong Giant Panda Centre, it spent over 7 million euros (±7.4M$/51.2MRMB) to build a special 3400 m² residence for the pandas.

Impression of the panda habitat in Dutch zoo Ouwehands, that was previously not approved by the Chinese delegation.

The residence was inspected two times by a special delegation from China. Because the panda habitat was initially disapproved by the delegation, the pandas’ arrival was postponed for six months. When they checked the panda residence again in January of 2017, they approved it but did demand the removal of a waterfall that was deemed “too noisy” for the pandas.

Zoo director Robert de Lange told Dutch news that it is of utmost importance that the pandas feel comfortable, and that the Chinese inspectors also take the volume of sounds into consideration.

 

“How could you treat our national treasures this way?”

 

As strict as the panda habitat regulations for foreign countries may be, it seems that China’s Lanzhou Zoo is not held to the same standard.

On Weibo, netizens’ anger over the apparent negligence of the animals in Gansu’s Lanzhou is directed at both the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the Lanzhou zoo staff: “The pandas are helping you make money, and this is how you treat them!”, one commenter writes: “I hope the authorities will see this on Weibo and rescue them.”

“I have been to the Lanzhou Zoo multiple times when I studied there, and the conditions are really terrible. How could you treat our national treasures this way?”, another person from Gansu writes.

Other netizens are now also posting more photos of the Lanzhou Zoo, writing: “I have been to Lanzhou Zoo today, and I saw the panda was skinny and had foam coming from its mouth – I first thought it were its fangs. I hope the relevant authorities can come and save this panda baby as soon as possible!”

Earlier this year, the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center also received criticism when the first giant panda born in Shanghai and her mother both died.

The Research Center (@中国大熊猫保护研究中心) addressed the criticism on Weibo in January, thanking China’s ‘Panda Lovers’ for their concerns and asking them to stop posting abusive comments towards them and their employees: “We understand your love for the giant pandas, everyone here at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center loves them, but we all have our own way of expressing it. For you it means you raise your concerns by posting blogs in the middle of the night, for us it means that our employees work night shifts taking care of the pandas, watching the monitors and keeping records.”

They also stated that the center does everything it can within their power for the good of their “black and white babies.”

For now, neither the Center nor the zoo has responded to the Lanzhou panda controversy yet.

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Songster, Elena. 2004. “A Natural Place for Nationalism : the Wanglang Nature Reserve and the Emergence of the Giant Panda as a National Icon.” Thesis/dissertation, University of California, San Diego.

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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Fresh Off the Boat, Xiamen Fish Are Tested for Covid-19

Catch of the day! These fish in Xiamen can’t escape their daily Covid test.

Manya Koetse

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It does not matter if you’re old or young, shrimp or fish – you can’t escape China’s zero-covid policy.

In the Jimei district of the coastal city of Xiamen, some fish and shrimp also had to do a nucleic acid test this week, leading to some banter on Chinese social media.

In the area, fishermen returning from a day of work have to undergo nucleic acid tests together with some of the fish that they caught during the day.

After the fishermen themselves have done the Covid test, they reportedly have to grab a few fresh fish from their catch of the day for the anti-epidemic workers to test. They open the mouth of the fish so that the fish can be tested with the cotton swab.

Chinese media outlet Sohu (搜狐新闻) posted a video about the issue on its Weibo account on August 17th, receiving over 90,000 likes and more than 8000 shares.

“I thought fish didn’t any lungs?” a popular comment said, with other commenters suggesting that this news made it clear that Covid “doesn’t affect the lungs but the brain instead.”

Another commenter suggested that if this matter concerned authorities, they should also start testing mosquitos.

Some also felt bad for the fish: “They still have to undergo this before getting killed.”

“The fish should be grateful for receiving a Covid test for free,” others wrote, while there were also people who wondered if parts of the sea would go into lockdown mode if some fish would test positive for Covid.

There were also critical commenters wondering about any scientific reasoning behind testing fish, asking who was getting paid to test them – suggesting commercial benefits outweigh scientific basis in this case.

“You can’t get Covid if you don’t have lungs, let alone if you live in the sea,” one Weibo user wrote, another person asking: “Have we all gone mad?”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China Animals

‘Welcome Home, Molly’ – Chinese Zoo Elephant Returns to Kunming after Online Protest

One small step for animal protection in China, one giant leap for Molly the elephant.

Manya Koetse

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Following online protest and the efforts of animal activists, Molly has returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born and where mother elephant Mopo is.

The little elephant named Molly is a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media recently.

The popular Asian elephant, born in the Kunming Zoo in 2016, was separated from her mother at the age of two in April of 2018. Molly was then transferred from Kunming Zoo to Qinyang, Jiaozuo (Henan), in exchange for another elephant. Over the past few years, fans of Molly started voicing their concerns online as the elephant was trained to do tricks and performances and to carry around tourists on her back at the Qinyang Swan Lake Ecological Garden (沁阳天鹅湖生态园), the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo (沁阳和生森林动物园), the Jiaozuo Forestry Zoo (焦作森林动物园), and the Zhoukou Safari Park (周口野生动物世界).

Since the summer of 2021, more people started speaking out for Molly’s welfare when they spotted the elephant chained up and seemingly unhappy, forced to do handstands or play harmonica, with Molly’s handlers using iron hooks to coerce her into performing.

Earlier this month, Molly became a big topic on Chinese social media again due to various big accounts on Xiaohongshu and Weibo posting about the ‘Save Molly’ campaign and calling for an elephant performance ban in China (read more).

Although zookeepers denied any animal abuse and previously stated that the elephant is kept in good living conditions and that animal performances are no longer taking place, Molly’s story saw an unexpected turn this week. Thanks to the efforts of online netizens, Molly fans, and animal welfare activists, Molly was removed from Qinyang.

A popular edited image of Molly that has been shared a lot online.

On May 15, the Henan Forestry Bureau – which regulates the holding of all exotic species, including those in city zoos – announced that Molly would return to Kunming in order to provide “better living circumstances” for the elephant. A day later, on Monday, Molly left Qinyang and returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born. In Kunming, Molly will first receive a thorough health check during the observation period.

Official announcement regarding Molly by the Henan Forestry Administration.

Many online commenters were happy to see Molly returning home. “Finally! This is great news,” many wrote, with others saying: “Please be good to her” and “Finally, after four years of hardship, Molly will be reunited with her mother.”

Besides regular Weibo accounts celebrating Molly’s return to Kunming, various Chinese state media accounts and official accounts (e.g. the Liaocheng Communist Youth League) also posted about Molly’s case and wished her a warm welcome and good wishes. One Weibo post on the matter by China News received over 76,000 likes on Monday.

Although many view the effective online ‘Save Molly’ campaign as an important milestone for animal welfare in China, some animal activists remind others that there are still other elephants in Chinese zoos who need help and better wildlife protection laws. Among them are the elephant Kamuli (卡目里) and two others who are still left in Qinyang.

For years, animal welfare activists in China and in other countries have been calling for Chinese animal protection laws. China does have wildlife protection laws, but they are often conflicting and do not apply to pets and there is no clear anti-animal abuse law.

“I’ll continue to follow this. What are the next arrangements? What is the plan for Molly and the other elephants? How will you guarantee a safe and proper living environment?”

Another Weibo user writes: “This is just a first step, there is much more to be done.”

To follow more updates regarding Molly, check out Twitter user ‘Diving Paddler’ here. We thank them for their contributions to this article.

To read more about zoos and wildlife parks causing online commotion in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse

References (other sources linked to within text)

Arcus Foundation (Ed.). 2021. State of the Apes: Killing, Capture, Trade and Ape Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

China Daily. 2012. “Animal Rights Groups Seek Performance Ban.” China Daily, April 16 http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2012-04/16/content_25152066.htm [Accessed May 1 2022].

Li, Peter J. 2021. Animal Welfare in China: Culture, Politics and Crisis. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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