‘ World’s sad­dest po­lar bear’ calls a mall in Guangzhou home

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Wil­liam Hen­nelly Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

An­i­mal rights groups are prac­tic­ing some po­lar bear diplo­macy. In this case, their ef­fort isn’t the heady stuff of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, but an at­tempt to set free an an­i­mal dubbed “the world’s sad­dest po­lar bear” who glumly lays about in a shop­ping mall aquar­ium in South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince.

On Tues­day, the Wash­ing­ton­based Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional (HSI) pre­sented a let­ter signed by 50 Chi­nese an­i­mal rights groups call­ing for the Guang­dong gover­nor to close the city’s Grand­view Mall Ocean World, where “Pizza”, as the bear is called, is among 500 an­i­mal species on ex­hibit.

The groups joined sev­eral other in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the Born Free Foun­da­tion and the Hong Kong-based An­i­mals Asia Foun­da­tion, which have gath­ered more than a mil­lion sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion call­ing for ac­tion.

“The Chi­nese groups are adding their voice to the in­ter­na­tional outrage at the po­lar bear’s fate, as new video footage is re­leased by Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional and its Chi­nese part­ner group VShine, show­ing the po­lar bear ex­hibit­ing wor­ry­ing stereo­typ­i­cal be­hav­iours such as head sway­ing and repet­i­tive pac­ing, ev­i­dence of frus­tra­tion and men­tal de­cline,” the let­ter said.

Last month, York­shire Wildlife Park in Eng­land of­fered to house the bear in a 10-acre en­clo­sure, but the of­fer was de­clined.

The 3-year-old bear has been the mall’s top draw it since it opened in Jan­uary. A so­cial me­dia post about Pizza’s ap­par­ently mo­rose de­meanor went vi­ral, spurring the groups to ac­tion.

“Pizza is a su­per­star,” Cao Jin­wei, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Bei­jing’s Cap­i­tal An­i­mal Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion, told the Los An­ge­les Times. “There was a large crowd around his en­clo­sure, and chil­dren had their faces against the glass to get a good look at him. But he is a celebrity with­out free­dom.”

The mall re­sponded to the crit­i­cism in an Oct 21 state­ment.

“Grand­view Mall Ocean World has al­ways op­er­ated with an ‘an­i­mals first’ phi­los­o­phy, fo­cus­ing from the out­set on an­i­mal pro­tec­tion, sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery and ed­u­ca­tion,” the state­ment said.

The state­ment also said that the aquar­ium wel­comes feed­back, but “some groups act­ing on ul­te­rior mo­tives and per­sonal vendet­tas will be re­ported to the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties, and [Grand­view Mall Ocean World] re­serves the right to take le­gal ac­tion.”

Hong­mei Yu, founder and pres­i­dent of Vshine An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, said “there is a wor­ry­ing trend in China of wild an­i­mal ex­hibits in shop­ping cen­ters, with an­other one re­port­edly be­ing con­sid­ered right now in Shi­ji­azhuang, He­bei prov­ince”.

“If the mall thinks for­eign groups are not needed, let them meet with us Chi­nese groups in­stead, be­cause we too care pas­sion­ately about these an­i­mals and want to give them a bet­ter life,” Yu said.

“Be­cause [such recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing Grand­view] aren’t pro­fes­sional zoos, they of­ten pro­vide very poor liv­ing con­di­tions [for an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity]. Plus, they are of­ten lo­cated in places where there are in­tense streams of vis­i­tors. So, from the as­pect of an­i­mal wel­fare, that im­poses a grave neg­a­tive im­pact on the an­i­mals,” Qin Xiaona, founder of Bei­jing­based Cap­i­tal An­i­mal Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion (CAWA), told the Voice of Amer­ica.

Grand­view, in re­sponse to VOA, ar­gued that Pizza is an ar­ti­fi­cially bred po­lar bear, which left its mother at the age of 2 and would be un­able to sur­vive in the wild.

“It is only ob­jec­tive to look at both an­i­mal wel­fare and their so­cial func­tion … we also shoul­der so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to pop­u­lar­ize sci­ence and pro­mote bio­di­ver­sity,” the cu­ra­tor wrote in an email.

Grand­view said it has made the health of Pizza and other cap­tive an­i­mals a pri­or­ity, with 130 pro­fes­sion­als tend­ing to the an­i­mals’ daily needs and per­form­ing reg­u­lar check­ups.

“Our star an­i­mal Pizza has been healthy, as all in­di­ca­tors from his re­cent phys­i­cal exam fall with the nor­mal range,” the state­ment said.

The aquar­ium said that Pizza is well fed and that it has added more stim­u­lat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, such as hid­ing food in the snow, ac­cord­ing to a Grand­view pro­mo­tional video.

Per­haps if Pizza knew how many peo­ple were pulling for him, that for­lorn look might some­day turn into a smile.


“Pizza” the po­lar bear in his en­clo­sure at the Grand­view Mall Ocean World in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince.

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