Is this the world’s saddest polar bear?

Heartbreaking footage of a polar bear being kept in bleak and lonely captivity in a Chinese shopping mall, purely so passersby can peer in and take selfies with it, has been released by the activist group Animals Asia, who are calling for people to sign a petition demanding the ‘facility’ be shut down.

‘Trapped in the middle of a shopping centre in China, his white fur contrasting against the unnaturally blue display he is an unwilling part of, this sad polar bear has no escape,’ reports the group’s website, where the video appears.

‘Nowhere to hide from people taking photos, banging on the windows and shouting. Nothing natural, no attempt to create an environment that would meet the needs of any living bear, never mind this vast magnificent animal.’

Suffering for selfies. A screenshot from the new video.
Suffering for selfies. A screenshot from the new video.

The bear is just one mighty mammal being kept in the Grandview shopping centre in Guangzhou, which has been branded ‘the world’s saddest zoo’. A second bear is also on display, separately, as are six young belugas, five walrus calves, a wolf and arctic foxes, and various videos have been posted showing the inhumane conditions they are housed in.

Scenes form 'the world’s saddest zoo', from the Animals Asia site
Scenes from ‘the world’s saddest zoo’, from the Animals Asia site

wolf at Grandview

Outraged online activists have criticised the centre since it opened, pleading with people to stay away until they rehome the animals to a facility that can offer appropriate living conditions. Unfortunately, shoppers still harass the animals, repeatedly knocking on windows to gain their attention for photographs.

‘There is no excuse for any animal to be trapped this way,’ Animals Asia Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale says. ‘It’s widely believed that polar bears are one of the hardest of all animals to effectively provide for in captivity. Polar bears often exhibit ‘stereotypic’ behaviour as captivity restricts their natural instincts such as the need to forage.

‘Polar bears require huge amounts of space. Large enough for them to walk, run, climb and hunt. The list of what they need is very long, to a point whereby you can only really answer that what a polar bear really ‘needs’ is to be free to live life in the wild.

‘This bear has no peace and nothing natural to take comfort in. What’s more, information on how best to try to meet the complex physical and behavioural needs of captive polar bears is freely available and yet this animal has been wilfully incarcerated in this way.

‘We are calling on the Chinese public not to attend this attraction. We are calling for it to be closed down. This is a bear that suffers for what? For selfies? For shopping?’

Alerted by videos and photos of the bear, animal welfare groups have been protesting about Guangzhou’s Grandview shopping centre for months, and a petition to close the so-called ‘prison zoo’ began early this year, attracting 285,250 signatures so far. Add your name to the list here.

According to Animals Asia’s site, Chinese social media posts have suggested unconfirmed deaths and subsequent replacement of animals, and it’s believed that there is little or no on-site veterinary care. Guangzhou Ocean and Fishery Bureau is also investigating Grandview aquarium, following rumours that animals have died or been hurt whilst being moved into the facility.