Not the Year of the Tiger

Danger lurks in China’s zoos and amusement parks


At a safer distance: a child by a glass cage at a zoo in Kunming

Are Chinese zoos and theme parks well run? That’s the question many were asking during the Chinese New Year after a series of worrying incidents.

The first case involved a 40 year-old father of two who was mauled to death by a tiger when he jumped the fence at Ningbo’s Youngor Zoo. Videos of the incident captured on visitors’ smartphones show the victim being dragged under a tree while people scream that “a man is being eaten”. The luckless trespasser, identified by state media with the surname Zhang, scaled three fences of over three metres to enter the zoo before stumbling accidentally into the tiger enclosure.

His wife told state broadcaster CCTV he tried to break into the zoo because they couldn’t afford to buy tickets for the whole family. An adult ticket costs Rmb130 ($18.94).

Such a situation might normally invoke sympathy, especially during Chinese New Year, a  time when families try to spend quality time together. But after Zhang was rescued from the  tiger enclosure – he died later in hospital – the animal which attacked him was shot.

Furthermore the family announced its intention to sue the park, leading to derision on social media. “He climbed over three fences and ignored safety signs,” lambasted one netizen on weibo.

“I don’t think it’s right we kill an animal for just doing what comes naturally,” said another. Others even said the man deserved his fate because he had broken the rules. (Reportedly Zhang had begun to climb back over the fences after a zoo official had berated him; however, he then retraced his steps to pick up a Xiaomi smartphone he’d dropped. It was at this point he was attacked by the tiger.)

A second horrific incident involved a 13 year-old girl who was flung out of a roller coaster at Chaohua Park in Chongqing.

Authorities said her seatbelt had broken and she was too small for the safety bar to work.

A few days after that a family from Liuzhou in Guangxi province made headlines for ordering staff to stop a rollercoaster when they realised their teenage daughter had snuck on without permission. Video footage shows the carriages stopped half way up an incline with park workers extracting the teenager and marching her down.

A fourth talking point involved the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin.  The park is famous for allowing tourists to feed the cats – visitors can buy raw meat or even live chickens. But it seems a surfeit of food and too little room to run around has made many of the tigers obese. Photos show the animals having trouble walking and with huge pot bellies. While some netizens joked this is exactly what they felt like after a week of Chinese New Year feasting, others said it was cruel to allow the cats to get that way.

“These are noble beasts. A real zoo would not let them get this way,” said one.

Meanwhile Shanghai Disney experienced its first Chinese New Year since opening last June. The company CEO Robert Iger said it had welcomed almost seven million visitors in the last seven months and remains on track to hit 10 million guests by the park’s first anniversary.

Demand for tickets over the festive period was such that the park suspended kiosk sales for two days and told people they could only buy in advance via Disney’s website.

While Disneyland would seem to be the epitome of a safe day out, the news about the other parks and zoos sparked debate about their future. “Small parks should be banned. Only large ones are trustworthy,” said one netizen.”

“Amusement parks are a paradise lost, they need to pay more attention to safety and have more regulation,” wrote the Legal Daily.

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