Over the years, Chinese zoos have earned themselves a poor reputation when it comes to the treatment of animals. There have been a considerable number of reports revealing practices such as underfeeding, keeping animals in poor living conditions, and forcing them to perform demeaning tricks for entertainment purposes.
However, as awareness of wildlife welfare and conservation grows, some Chinese zoos are transforming themselves from profit-oriented businesses into educational institutions whose main functions are to save endangered species and teach the public about animals and conservation.
The latest facility to join this admirable initiative is Qingdao Forest Wildlife World. Home to over 5,000 wild animals and 263 species, the zoo announced today that it had halted animal performances permanently and replaced them with educational programs.
“Canceling the shows was not only our way to show respect for animals, but a necessary decision for us given that we want to restore the public welfare side of our zoo in the long run,” the zoo announced. “During the transformation, we hope that more people will take part in conservation efforts, turning the Qingdao Forest Wildlife World into an educational place where animals and humans coexist in harmony.”
The zoo also noted that it came to the decision after years of attempts to make animal shows less exploitative and more educational: Although performances like tightrope-walking bears and bike-riding monkeys have delighted visitors greatly over the years, they failed to convey meaningful messages that resonated with the audiences.
When speaking to The Paper (in Chinese), the zoo’s director, Lǐ Huànbīn 李焕斌, explained that the ban had been in effect since April 1, but it was decided to make the announcement public on April 22 — this year’s Earth Day — in order to draw attention to broader issues like animal welfare and protection. Celebrated annually on April 22, the holiday was created by UNESCO to promote awareness and appreciation for Earth’s environment. Li also said that the zoo would send animal care employees to schools and communities on a nearly weekly basis to perform educational work about species and their protection.
On Chinese social media, comments about the decision have been overwhelmingly positive. “I hope there won’t be any animal shows across on this planet, but I know we need to take it step by step. This is an applaudable move on the zoo’s part,” one Weibo user commented.