Shanghai’s “Animal Games” trigger row

In Chinese children’s books, you often see animals being compared to great athletes, but recently a real life “Animal Games” has hit the stage in Shanghai, inciting protest from environmental groups.

On September 23, one of the main events of the Shanghai Tourism Festival, the “2011 Animal Games” opened in Shanghai Wild Animal Park. It included African lions, South American Alpacas and Asian Elephants, as well as over 200 other animals, covering 30 species from all parts of the world. They performed in athletics, ball games, gymnastics, and sporting competitions. According to online reports, there were almost no empty seats at that opening performance. The show is expected to continue until October’s National Day holiday next week.


In online videos of these Games, the “opening ceremony” has a chimpanzee lighting a “mystic flame”, Asian elephants standing on one leg and other animals performing these kind of “competitions”, all under the direction of a trainer. Children interviewed in the videos expressed happiness and seem to have enjoyed the spectacle.

But the “2011 Animal Games” has concerned environmental groups. Li Huili, a researcher for environmental NGO Green Beagle wrote on microblogging site Weibo: “Large international cities shouldn’t act so ignorantly. Getting animals to perform in this way gives children the wrong ideas. They begin to believe that wild animals can also be manipulated, getting rid of their wild nature, and danger. The next step is to trample upon them and take advantage of them, like getting gall from live bears, or the fur and leather industry.”

Netizen Doudou Mian, also writing on Weibo, argued that getting animals to perform goes against nature, and criticised dangerous activities like “Hounds shaking with metal mouth-guards on, enormous animals standing on one foot on high platforms, chimpanzees that naturally fear fire lighting ‘mystic flames’.”

The National Forestry Bureau issued a notice in 2010 requesting zoos, wildlife parks, safari parks, circuses and other wildlife viewing spots, to immediately cease vulgar advertising, direct contact between wild animals and crowds and abuse of animals in performances.

At the start of September, a video appeared on the internet called, “Shanghai Wild Animal Park abuses small bear”. It showed an employee forcefully kicking a small black bear. An associate at Shanghai Wild Animal park confirmed that the footage was genuine and said action had already been taken against the person in question.

The recent appearance of Shanghai Wild Animal Park’s, “2011 Animal Games” has led ACTAsia for Animals to say on Weibo, “The only way to stop this kind of atrocity is for the people to continue the protest themselves.”

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Laura Piercy