Will global pressure help the 'world's saddest' polar bear?

More than a million people from China and abroad have signed a petition urging organizers of China’s Grandview Shopping Mall to close its zoo.

YouTube/Animals Asia
Pizza the polar bear rests inside Grandview Aquarium at a shopping mall in Guangzhou, China, in this YouTube screenshot by Animals Asia. The polar bear is inspiring international calls to close the aquarium, due to what advocates fear are inadequate conditions.

Pizza, the polar bear kept in China’s Grandview Shopping Mall – dubbed the world’s saddest zoo – may have found its savior in a million global petitioners united by several international and Chinese animal rights groups.

The Humane Society International and 50 Chinese animal groups as well as Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation gathered more than one million petition signatures after the issue was brought to light earlier this year, sparking international outrage over what they found to be inadequate conditions in Pizza's enclosure. An open letter was sent to Guangdong province Gov. Zhu Xiaodan on Tuesday, urging him to close the aquarium.

“We welcome the one million petition signatures from concerned citizens around the world, as they have helped to raise much needed awareness about the animals at this mall who deserve so much better than being enclosed in a glass box to attract shoppers,” Hongmei Yu, founder and president of Vshine Animal Protection Association, the HSI’s partner in China on this issue, said in a press release. “There is a worrying trend in China of wild animal exhibits in shopping centres, with another one reportedly being considered right now in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. It shows a complete lack of regard for their welfare.”

While mall operators may find wild animal exhibits gaining popularity in China, they run counter to a global trend toward more humane treatment of animals. Most recently in the United States, online travel site TripAdvisor announced that it will stop offering tickets to wild animal attractions, while SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has been pressured by activists to stop its iconic orca shows. The mobilization of local Chinese organizations to free Pizza is also their method of telling their country – and the world – that animal rights is not a “Western” thing.

“Some people say that animal rights are a Western concern, but that dismisses centuries of Chinese history,” Qin Xiaona, president of the Chinese Capital Animal Welfare Association told the Los Angeles Times. “We can’t forget the principles that our culture was built on, which is to never do harm to our natural surroundings and value every form of life. Through the vigorous struggles of these recent years, we’ve sold out our traditions – we must return to them.”

Pizza first drew headlines when advocacy group representatives showed videos of the bear lying in an enclosed aquarium with artificial lights, murals of icebergs, and an air vent amid constant banging on the glass by tourists. The bear would pace around while swaying its head, signs that experts say indicate distress.

“Their environment is so unique. They’re such wide-ranging animals, and they start to decline quite rapidly in captivity,” Wendy Higgins, spokeswoman for HSI told The New York Times. “Pizza spends every single day on his own with nowhere to hide, just subjected to people banging on the glass and taking photographs.”

The Grandview also hosts another 500 other animals ranging from the arctic fox to beluga whales in the mall enclosures, attracting thousands of people on peak days, as reported by The New York Times.

The company has met the criticism and petitions with denial, saying that the operations were developed under guidance from animal specialists.

"Grandview Mall Ocean World has always operated with an ‘animals first’ philosophy, focusing from the outset on animal protection, scientific discovery and education,” the company said in a statement, as reported by the LA Times, continuing that “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.”

A zoo in Britain had earlier offered to host Pizza but was declined by the company, which said there is “no need for foreign organizations to get involved.”

China currently has no animal rights law, and guidelines from the Ministry of Agriculture regarding captive wild animals are broad and vague, according to the LA Times, leaving the only solution to be leveraging public opinion.

“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,” Ms. Yu said. “There are no more excuses left for not taking action.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Will global pressure help the 'world's saddest' polar bear?
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2016/1026/Will-global-pressure-help-the-world-s-saddest-polar-bear
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe