Zoo Asylum

Zoo Asylum


Pandas and China are synonymous.  Thus, as my final days in Beijing wound nearer and nearer, a visit to the Beijing Zoo topped my list of things to do.  Amidst the sea of parents with toddlers in twy, my friend and I eagerly weaved through the park to find the beloved black and white creatures.  What we saw was nothing like our expectations. 

In the Asian Games exhibitions, the huge panda in each of the trio of cages sat cowering in the back of the huge cage.  One pleadingly pawed the bar door as though asking to escape.  Another sat mournfully and hopelessly stared into the expanse beyond the concrete prison.  A third was prodded back into the center of the exhibition, where she/he did what was expected and played the role of the gay panda posing in ridiculously cute positions.  Perhaps my perception of the animals was colored by my experience with zoos with open-air habitats—where the animals at least look somewhat content.  Seeing the panda not as the happy cuddly caricature in the media, but seeing instead a melancholy creature with dingy white fur made me cringe. 

Of course, if things were bad for the national animal, the standards only get worse for the other lowly wildlife.  Cage after cage of the other areas reminded me of an industrial prison or asylum.  Animals either were docile beyond belief or frantically pacing back and forth.  The other visitors seemed oblivious to the animals’ plight.  They laughed gaily and pointed and tapped on the glass, hoping for any little show.  People actually gathered around the cage of a vicious angry white tiger that roared and paced the length of its prison, eagerly snapping pictures immortalizing the animal’s signs of distress.  I haven’t been to another zoo since. 


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