Taizhou Zoo Faces Criticism Over “Panda Dog” Exhibit

A zoo in Taizhou, China, has recently come under fire for its controversial “panda dog” exhibit, which features two Chow Chow dogs with their fur dyed black and white to resemble giant pandas. The exhibit, which opened on May 1, has sparked mixed reactions from visitors and animal welfare advocates alike. The zoo’s decision to display the dyed dogs has raised questions about the ethics of using animals for entertainment purposes and the potential impact on the animals’ well-being.

Zoo Defends Decision, Claims Dogs Unharmed

The Taizhou Zoo, located in the eastern province of Jiangsu, has defended its decision to display the dyed dogs, stating that the animals were not harmed in the process. A spokesperson for the zoo compared the dyeing process to people coloring their hair, telling Qilu Evening News, “Dogs can dye their hair, too. It’s the same as hair.” The zoo maintains that it used non-toxic dye on the dogs and that their fur is essential to their health and survival.

The zoo also argues that it clearly advertised the exhibit as featuring “panda dogs” and did not make any false claims about the animals. Officials say that the exhibit was created because the zoo lacked the qualifications to obtain real pandas, which are endemic to China and an international symbol of the country. Despite the controversy, the dogs remain part of the exhibit, and the number of visitors has remained steady, according to NBC News.

Public Backlash and Animal Welfare Concerns

The exhibit has drawn criticism from both the public and animal welfare advocates, who argue that the zoo is misleading visitors and potentially mistreating the dogs. On Chinese social media platform Weibo, one commenter pointed out that the Chow Chow’s fragile skin and thick coat make them more susceptible to skin diseases. Others have accused the zoo of exploiting the animals for profit and disregarding their well-being.

Animal experts have also expressed concerns about the practice of dyeing animals for entertainment purposes. Ron Magill, director of communications at Zoo Miami, told TODAY, “This is something that’s kind of being forced on the animal for the sake of human entertainment. Zoos are there to educate. Zoos are there to inspire… or to promote conservation. They’re not there to promote painting domestic animals with colors to represent wild animals.”

The controversy has sparked a broader discussion about the role of zoos in modern society and the need for stricter regulations to ensure the welfare of animals in captivity. Some argue that zoos should focus on conservation and education rather than entertainment, while others believe that responsible zoos can play a valuable role in raising awareness about animal welfare issues.

Past Controversies and "Panda Dog" Trend

This is not the first time a Chinese zoo has faced criticism for its animal exhibits. In July 2022, the Hangzhou Zoo in Zhejiang province faced rumors that some of its bears were human imposters after photos and videos of a Malayan Sun Bear standing on its hind legs circulated online. The zoo strongly denied these claims, releasing a statement from the perspective of the bear, Angela, that read, “Let me emphasize again: I am a sun bear! Not a black bear! Not a dog! It’s a sun bear!”

The use of dyed Chow Chows to resemble pandas has been seen before in China. In 2019, a dog cafe in Sichuan province raised animal rights concerns for its six “panda dogs,” and in 2020, a video of a woman walking a dyed Chow Chow in Sichuan went viral, revealing the dog to be a “panda” impersonator. These incidents highlight the ongoing trend of using animals for novelty and entertainment purposes in China.

Other zoos in China have also been accused of having fake animals, often dogs they tried to present as wolves or African cats. These controversies have led to increased scrutiny of zoos and animal exhibits in the country, with many calling for stricter regulations and oversight to prevent the mistreatment of animals.

Ongoing Debate Over Animal Welfare in Zoos

As the controversy surrounding the Taizhou Zoo’s “panda dogs” continues, it highlights the ongoing debate over the ethics of using animals for entertainment purposes in zoos. While some argue that such exhibits can help raise awareness and promote conservation efforts, others maintain that the well-being of the animals should be the top priority. The incident has also raised questions about the effectiveness of current regulations and oversight of zoos in China.

Animal welfare advocates argue that zoos have a responsibility to provide animals with environments that closely resemble their natural habitats and to prioritize their physical and psychological well-being. They point out that dyeing animals’ fur, keeping them in small enclosures, and subjecting them to constant human interaction can cause stress and health problems. Some have called for a shift towards more naturalistic exhibits and a greater focus on conservation and education.

On the other hand, supporters of zoos argue that they play a valuable role in raising awareness about animal welfare issues and promoting conservation efforts. They point out that responsible zoos can provide animals with high-quality care and contribute to research and breeding programs that help protect endangered species. However, even among zoo supporters, there is a growing recognition of the need for stricter standards and oversight to ensure the welfare of animals in captivity.