A zoo in central China has responded to allegations that it was mistreating a bear after photos of the skinny animal circulated online.

A user on the Weibo microblogging site posted three photos of the apparently emaciated bear on Sunday. The user, whose screen name is @lxfyghy, later confirmed to mainland outlet The Paper through a private message that they took the photos at the zoo in Xinxiang People’s Park that day.

Photos: Weibo/lxfyghy.

“A bear in the Henan province Xinxiang People’s Park zoo – it’s skin and bones, looks so sad, was it abused? Or hungry? Should we be showing kids bears like this? Is there anyone who can save them?” the user’s post asked.

The park responded to the post on Monday using its official Weibo account, attributing the bear’s condition to two reasons: that it was in a growing phase and that the photo was taken during shedding season.

“The brown bear is just over one year old – it is going through a phase when its skeleton is growing rapidly, it won’t retain fat like fully-grown bears do. Besides, it is shedding season – the bears will shed their thick fur to help them get through the hot summer, therefore they will look thin.”

It added that the bear’s snout was long, which makes it seem thinner. The park also said that it eats regularly, and receives regular health checks from the park’s vets.

Photo: Weibo.

The head of the park’s animal management unit told The Paper that the bear was on the skinny side, but still healthy and within the normal range. The spokesperson also said that the two brown bears it now houses – one male and one female – were transferred from other zoos. The male was slightly fatter while the female was thinner, they said.

They added that the park had no way of weighing the animals due to limitations in resources, but denied that the bear was abused, sick or hungry.

The Paper cited an unidentified animal rights activist as saying that the bear was obviously overly thin, and that zoos should consider the limitations to their abilities when taking in new animals.

The Xinxiang People’s Park. Photo: Xinxiang People’s Park website.

Peter Li, China policy specialist at the Humane Society, told HKFP that the zoo should be closed: “Several problems could be the contributing factors: deprivation of foods in terms of the right amount or the right kind. Health problems could be another one. Xinxiang People’s Park has long been exposed for its total lack of expertise and welfare awareness for the animals… Displaying abused animals is sending a wrong message to the visitors that we humans can do anything to nonhuman animals.”

NGO Animals Asia, which rescues bears from bile farms, also expressed concern.

“There may be numerous reasons for the obviously depleted condition of this bear,” Jill Robinson, the charity’s founder, told HKFP. “However, we are extremely concerned given the fact that she is begging for food and is clearly not satiated.”

A tiger at the Xinxiang People’s Park zoo. Photo: Xinxiang People’s Park website.


Weibo users reacted to the zoo’s response with disbelief and anger.

“Why don’t you respond that the netizens all made a mistake, and that it’s a dog? It’s so skinny, it doesn’t even look like a bear anymore,” one said.

The user who took the photos said: “The official response is too deceitful.”

“Don’t mess around. We’d get mad if you abuse animals, but now you’re insulting our intelligence too?” another said.

Pizza, the ‘world’s saddest polar bear,’ in a mall exhibit.

It is not the first time that Chinese zoos’ treatment of animals have attracted outrage. Earlier this month, disgruntled shareholders in a zoo near Shanghai fed a live donkey to tigers to express their frustration that they were not profiting from their investment.

Last year, a polar bear known as “the world’s saddest polar bear” was moved from an exhibit in a Chinese mall upon popular demand. Activists campaigned to have him removed after photos of the bear, named Pizza, showed him lying listlessly on the ground in a gloomy, windowless room as visitors crowded around taking photos on their cell phones.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.