Regular readers of this column might have noticed that I’m not a great fan of zoos – or any animal-based attraction come to that. The basic concept of sticking animals in pens so they can be gawped at by the public just doesn’t seem especially enlightened.
BUT if you really must develop a zoo, there are some very basic elements you need to get right. Like having a few animals.
Unfortunately for a zoo in China, it even managed to get this most simple of tasks wrong. Officials at the Luohe City zoo in Henan province decided they could get around the tiny issue of not actually having any wild animals by replacing them with household pets.
Clearly believing that, in the age of satellite television and the internet, visitors would not be able to spot a lion when they saw one, they decided to replace the 180kg beast with a dog. Other visitors described being disappointed to find only “dogs, rats and fox-like animals” in display.
“The zoo is absolutely cheating us,” one woman was quoted as saying by the Orient Today newspaper. “They are trying to disguise the dogs as lions.”
But having seen the pictures of the poor Tibetan mastiff that the zoo tried to pass off as a lion, locked in a filthy cage behind a battered sign, a few things become immediately clear…
Firstly, thank goodness that there isn’t an African lion living in those squalid conditions. Secondly, that the miserable-looking dog also deserves better treatment. And thirdly, the public shouldn’t be paying money to look at animals kept in such squalor, whether they by lions, dogs or anything else.
In many parts of the world, zoos are thankfully evolving from places to exhibit animals, to centres to take care of them. But sadly many are still putting profit ahead of animal welfare, and China is one of countries that needs to seriously look at the way its zoos are maintained.
I only hope that the lion that was supposed to be on display in Luohe has been sent somewhere a little more habitable. As for the Tibetan mastiff, let’s hope he finds a good home soon.