The Zoo Debate


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, August 25, 2004 was originally posted on September 01, 2004.

DAY 312:  Zoos are controversial things.  One on hand, they aim to bring wild animals from faraway lands to urban areas, so that city folk who don’t have the time, money or courage to see them in the wild can simply stroll around and see them all in a day before “Must See TV” starts.  On the other hand, innocent animals are held in captivity for the convenience of Man — their treatment depending on the level of professionalism of the zoo.  Lonely Planet China‘s biased paragraph of the Beijing Zoo states that “All zoos are animal prisons, but Beijing Zoo seems like death row.”  As readers of The Blog may know, you can’t believe everything you read in a guidebook — particularly a Lonely Planet one — so I decided to see the zoo for myself.  Besides, I wanted to see the pandas.

The Beijing Subway took me to the Beijing Zoo in the northwest corner of the city center.  With Lonely Planet’s description and Ed’s negative comments of the zoo in mind (he had been there before trekking The Great Wall with me), I expected it to be a depressing place where animals lived in tiny cages with no where to roam around at all.  Ed said the exception to this was the Panda House, the Beijing Zoo’s main attraction, but inside, pandas were trapped behind glass:  one sloped over a tree branch like he was dead, another feeding on bamboo.  It was a bit depressing to see them pace in circles around and around, waiting to go outside.  On the outside I saw that, when given the opportunity, they had a big lawn to play around in, with a little jungle gym and a slide.

THE BEIJING ZOO WAS A FAIRLY BIG PLACE with impressive landscaping and many animals not in cages, but in paddocks surrounded by ditches to keep them out of harm’s way to people.  There were many depressing exceptions though, like the yak, the deer, the ground hornbill, the flamingos and the big cats — although the predator felines took turns to stretch their legs out in a much bigger pavilion that surrounded their cages, which was a comforting though.  It still wasn’t like releasing them into the wild, but a compromise as far as zoos are concerned.  Debate it if you’d like.

Of course there’s no real substitution for natural habitats, but I suppose that’s the challenge of zoo management — finding the cost-effective balance between the allotment of animals’ real estate and the paths in between within the total real estate given.  While I would agree that a zoo is a sort of animal prison, I don’t knock them; I have very fond childhood memories of zoos, ever since I rode an elephant at the Bronx Zoo on a trip with my parents as a kid.  I understand the nature of a zoo and endorse any zoo that does its best to care for its residents.  It’s funny how Lonely Planet’s China says Beijing Zoo is like death row; Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring describes the Mallasa Zoologico zoo just outside of La Paz, Bolivia as “kickass” — and it was a much less maintained zoo than the Beijing one.  My final analysis on the Beijing Zoo:  I thought, as far as zoos were concerned, it was a decent one.  I mean, not even in the wild could you feed an elephant.

I sort of zipped around the different animals — from the indoor, open area tropical rainforest house to the lagoon to the African mammal paddocks — all in a haste since I was still a little under the weather.  Besides, not to sound like a snob here, but I’d seen most of the animals in their natural habitats already.  I went back to the Panda House before I left that afternoon to see if they had been let out to play — one had.  It was sort of ironic; after the panda (picture above) played around on the jungle gym and scratched his ass for a bit, he paced around and around like he did that morning, this time wanting to go inside the cage.  I guess it’s true what they say:  the grass is always greener on the other side. 

STILL FEELING A LITTLE SICK, I decided to take it easy again to watch the Olympics in my room — I swear I never heard the Chinese national anthem so many times in my life.  Roommate Sam stayed in too but we briefly went out to get some local
food, which he bargained down using the limited Mandarin he picked up from his daily morning language lessons.  We picked on lychees back on our way back to the room and watched a bootleg DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11, presenting Michael Moore’s one side in the debate over whether or not George W. Bush should be re-elected president.  Toni and Paul came in near the end pretty hammered after a night of boozing and sampling all the unorthodox animals to eat in Beijing:  fried scorpions, grilled silkworms and dog.  I’ll admit I felt a little envious since I hadn’t been around to join them — it would have made for an interesting Blog entry — but then again perhaps some animals might be better off in zoos than be served on a stick to drunken backpackers.

Next entry: Workin’ For The Blog

Previous entry: No Summer Coincidence

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Comments for “The Zoo Debate”

  • The quintessential giant Panda… You know you’re in China when…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  06:23 PM

  • those small behind-glass rooms look no different than the ones in zoos here in the u.s. , from the omaha zoo to the bronx zoo. and that tiny little zoo in central park also. i am sure the writer for that lonely planet book was just against the imprisonment of animals. don’t blame him though. i feel bad for the poor animals.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  09:28 PM

  • It would be nice to see good ole GWB in that zoo with the Pandas…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  11:20 PM

  • Love the panda pics smile  My husband and I boht laughed at the one where the panda wanted to go back in its cage.  Japanese people are obsessed with pandas and I think it has affected me by osmosis wink 

    Erik - that food looked nasty… is the server really scooping it around with their hand?  It kinda has a prison feel to it.  I feel like an inmate looking at that picture.

    Posted by Liz  on  09/01  at  05:47 PM

  • LIZ:  He is putting ground meat/veg into a skin to fry up… it turned out to be a really good (and greasy) egg roll type thing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/04  at  10:18 AM

  • I would agree with Alice’s comment - I went to the San Diego zoo recently and there are some cages that are sad and some that are pretty cool. It’s a tough line to toe. There was a panda someplace in China that was on loan to SD and now is back - that just recently had a baby - is that at the Beijing zoo??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  04:11 AM

  • PANDAS!!! So cute!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/08  at  06:12 PM

  • The Bronx zoo is one of the best zoos in the world..  despite working in the wildlife conservation line, i don’t necessarily think that zoos are evil.  under the right management, zoos could be beneficial especially educating urban kids about the issues of wildlife conservation.  i also believe that zoos shouldn’t have animals caught from the wild.  This is where captive breeding comes into play but that’s another can of worms..

    been following your blog for months now..  when i was in beijing about two years ago, i contemplated visitng the zoo but ended up not going.

    did you fly a kite on tiannamen square?  so cliche but it was a lot of fun. grin

    Posted by cayce  on  09/12  at  12:34 PM

  • CAYCE:  Kite, no…  looks like fun though.  BTW, great blog!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/12  at  03:26 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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