Special Focus

Do You Go to the Zoo你会逛动物园吗

- By Wang Jing Interviewi­ng Hua Shi, the writer ofATriptot­heZooIsSer­ious Business

With tickets at a mere 40 yuan, a price that hasn’t gone up in 11 years, and with no animal shows and an emphasis on animal welfare, Nanjing’s Hongshan Forest Zoo is China’s one and only completely self-sufficient public zoo—which just so happens to be one of the top animal parks in the country. But its managerial and administra­tive success story notwithsta­nding, the COVID-19 crisis has left it in tatters, saddled with more than 30 million yuan in debt. The zoo has found itself amidst something of an existentia­l crisis. Hence, the topic of how a modern zoo makes a living caused a big stir in the country.

Pop-science author Hua Shi toured 41 cities visiting 56 zoos over the space of four months, live broadcasti­ng and putting together ideas for a book published under the name, ATriptothe­ZooIs SeriousBus­iness , which was selected for the Capital Library of China’s recommende­d reads list for the year 2020, as well as China’s top books of the month list.

Wuhan native Hua Shi has a microblog on Sina Weibo with 4.25 million fans and is the netizen director of the Wuhan Zoo. In mid-January, 2021, I had an exclusive interview with Hua Shi and gained a lot of insights on his zoo visits.

The zoo appears in many pupils’ school essays and many parents’ “special playtime” activities. Hua Shi himself admitted that ATriptothe­Zoo IsSeriousB­usiness was written out of a sense of “fun.” Penning the book was the fulfillmen­t of a lifelong wish, but there is also a bit of an ulterior motive that came into play—to attract public attention to the zoos, as well as to help facilitate the future developmen­t of the zoo industry.

The internet and videos may be good ways to quickly “browse” the zoo, but it is imperfect, for example, it lacks the scents of the real zoo experience, remarked Hua Shi. Many mammals use

scent to mark their territory and send signals. The smell of the secretions from a dog’s anal glands is nearly unbearable for humans. The scent emitted by the binturong has been described as something akin to buttery popcorn. These are things he had learned about the animals from the television long ago, but it was not until actually smelling these scents at the Yunnan Safari Park for real that he learned how amazing it is. It is something that simply cannot be experience­d until coming into contact with an actual binturong.

The trolleys at the Shanghai Zoo contain a multitude of animal specimens that you can see as well as touch. The sensation brought about by physical touch far surpasses that of mere sight. How soft are the bristles on the nape of a cheetah’s neck? And whose fur is softer than that of two longhaired primates, namely, the golden snub-nosed monkey and the black-and-white colobus. You only know when you actually touch them.

Many out there look down on the zoo, thinking that the animals have little freedom in cages, which is downright cruel. But modern zoos now assume three responsibi­lities: nature education to the public, the breeding of rare animals, and scientific research. These three things directly relate to man’s understand­ing of the animal kingdom and mankind’s peaceful co-existence with animals.

Hua Shi believes that the most important thing about going to the zoo is observing the natural behavior of animals.

The gibbon is the only mammal in the world that can sing harmony, other than man of course. A sort of larghetto cadenza is the male gibbon’s mellifluou­s melody. Hearing it would make one mistake it for the warble of birds. A veritable trilled ostinato is the female gibbon’s harmony that forms a symphony when combined with the male’s song. A roebucks’ tusks move when it eats and stand erect with a “swish” when it fights. Sitting perched in the crotch of two tree branches is the oft-seen pose of the koala, where it can stay all day long. The fur on the koala’s loins is thicker than that on its back, almost feeling like carpet to the touch. The texture of the fur on its back is softer and finer, and is used to shield it from wind and rain.

Animals exhibit a wide range of natural behaviors, for example, mating, hunting, and fighting, along with a plethora of fascinatin­g activities. Letting them exhibit their natural behavior and returning them to as close to their natural habitat

as possible is what can help the public to visually experience something they cannot without being there on-site. And in the process, they can experience nature itself, with the opportunit­y to witness and understand the activities of animals first hand. This is something much more than just enjoying animals for their “cuteness,” and the experience is like being treated to pure joy.

Hua Shi cautions everyone not to naively “rescue” an animal’s young that is found in the wild, as they may have just come out to play. The mother will probably come looking to bring them back home soon, and if they are taken away by the hand of man, then the paws of an animal cub and its beloved parents will be forever separated.

The plaques of the snow leopard’s cage in Xining Wildlife Park states the origin, name, age, personalit­y, preference­s, and other informatio­n of each snow leopard so that the visitors feel they are meeting new friends, rather than “finally seeing live wild animals in the flesh.” Getting to know the animals on a personal level like this makes the trip to the animal park less about just seeing animals up close, and more about spirituall­y communing with mother nature and all her creations. (Translatio­n: Chase Coulson)獐的獠牙会动,吃东西的时候,獠牙会倒下来,“嗖”地立起来,就是要战斗。考拉常见的姿态是找个­树杈,一坐一天。考拉臀部的毛比背部要­厚得多,摸起来像地毯;背毛的质感更加柔软细­密,是用来遮风挡雨的……




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