For the second time in two weeks, Chinese people have raised concerns about the welfare of zoo animals, focusing on the treatment of giant pandas.
Photos surfaced online Saturday of a panda named Shulan at the Lanzhou Zoo in Gansu with a large stain on its back, prompting animal rights activists to argue the animal had been abused.
The zoo promptly denied the accusations, however it was too late. The public outcry initiated a swift response from national and provincial forestry and wildlife departments which sent several government experts to the zoo the next day. While a preliminary investigation confirmed the panda had received a small wound on its back, it was determined the discoloration was from an iodine treatment spray, and not from blood.
The experts further determined that the panda was not mistreated, and likely received the wound from the sharpened end of a bamboo stalk while eating or rolling on the ground.
Wang Huitai, deputy head of the zoo, denies it mistreats the pandas. Wang explained they removed Shulan from public viewing, a move that aroused further public suspicion, because the controversy attracted too many visitors to the panda enclosure.
“We would consider bringing her back for public viewing on Monday if the situation gets better,” said Wang.
Despite the denials, people remain skeptical. One person wrote, “But why are they still so thin?” while another simply pointed out that “They would get better treatment if they were sent abroad.”
One person commented that the welfare of all animals at the Lanzhou Zoo is generally poor, saying: “I’ve been to this zoo. Some of the larger birds have either their wings or legs broken; they are all just awaiting death! Can’t bear to go again after having gone once, it’s a shame to see.”
The Lanzhou Zoo had also been under fire by the public for previous treatment of its pandas. In 2015, netizens complained that the zoo’s panda, Lanzai, was “dirty” and “lethargic”, while the panda facility was criticized for being dirty and in poor condition in 2013.
Just last week, the Taiyuan Zoo in Shanxi was criticized for allowing one of its pandas to eat garbage thrown to it by visitors. Similar to the Lanzhou controversy, complaints from a netizen that openly questioned the zoo’s ability to keep pandas led to public discontent and government intervention.