Zoos have been under intense scrutiny in the U.S., as more and more animal advocacy groups protest against the inhumane treatment of animals held in captivity. In my recent blog titled, “Are Zoos & Animal Captivity Outdated Paradigms,” I referenced the killing of the 450-pound gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo in addition to the derelict treatment of orca whales at Sea World, and the retirement of dolphins from the National Aquarium.
But other parts of the world continue to be motivated by commercialism and greed, as they look for new venues to benefit from exotic animals held in captivity for entertainment purposes.
Grandview, not so Grand . . .
The latest evolution of zoos and aquariums in China are of particular concern to animal advocates, as these animal residents are forced to live in small enclosures within Chinese Shopping Malls — all with the sole goal of luring in customers.
"Underperforming malls have added to a corporate debt problem in the country," write Pete Sweeney and Jessica Macy Yu for Reuters, even as consumption grows nationwide.
However while shopping sprees and animal attractions might sound like a full day of fun and entertainment for families, it is anything but that for wild animals that have to live out their lives in unnatural environments.
The Grandview Mall is one such mall. It is referred by many detractors as the “home of the world’s saddest polar bear” in addition to hundreds of other wild animals and sea creatures. Unfortunately, it has the full support of the government, where they have even decided to expand the attraction, despite growing global criticism.
Based in Guangzhou, a city where average summer temperatures reach over 86 degrees ℉, with humidity levels that hover over 80-percent, “Pizza,” a three-year-old polar bear is stuffed into a tiny glassed-in enclosure which is closer in size to a prison cell than it is an inhabitable living space for a bear its size.
China’s recent history of animal attractions
China’s trends to construct animal theme parks started in earnest in 2011, when about a dozen aquariums were established, according to China Cetacean Alliance (CCA), a Beijing-based non-profit organization that tracks Chinese cetacean industry.
The number tripled to around 30 in 2013, and rose to around 60 in 2016. “The aquarium industry sees this mall trend as a new opportunity to expand their business, and the malls also embrace this idea as they think it could help attract more visitors and boost their sales,” said CCA.
Whales, foxes and wolves, oh my . . .
Pizza isn’t the biggest, or the most unusual animal in the mall. Grandview holds six beluga whales, eight Arctic foxes, and six Arctic wolves.
All the whales are held in a two-story tank around 6.5 meters (21 foot) deep. An adult beluga whale can grow to four meters long. According to the CCA, Grandview’s tank depth just meets the minimum size requirement to keep these captive whales alive.
So What’s To Be Done?
Following the death of an Argentinian zoo polar bear, who was kept in similar hot conditions, Pizza's life is virtually in danger.
“Taking animals from their natural environments can never be defended, but when they’re re-homed in conditions like we’re seeing at the Grandview Aquarium it’s the worst possible situation,” Animals Asia‘s Animal Welfare Director Dave Neal said in a statement.
“While those behind this may claim this as education, it’s clear the motivation here is bottom line profit. As long as businesses are allowed to use animals in this manner, wealth will always be put ahead of welfare.”
Thousands of animal lovers agree with Neal’s sentiment, with over 150,000 people signing a petition to close down the aquarium and move the animals. You can find the petition here. Please sign the petition if you agree that Pizza should live out his days in a more natural habitat, and comment below your thoughts about animals held in this type of captivity.