Every now and then, the miserable newspapers cough up an item that tickles my fancy
Last week, it being school holidays in Henan Province, China: Mrs. Liu Wen, took her son to visit their local zoo in Louhe. The child was particularly interested in the big cats, and so they headed straight for the African Lion (hah, as opposed to the English Lion, a whole other species!). When they got there Mrs. Liu – a nature fan, realized something was amiss.
Behind a sign proclaiming this to be the King of the Savannah, stood a furry brown animal. One she recognized immediately as a Tibetan Mastiff. She was horrified and incensed but: “Because I had my young son with me, I tried to play along and told him it was a special kind of lion”
They spent some time in front of the cage, Liu gamely reading through the lion’s range and characteristics kindly provided by Zoo. Eventually they turned to leave and the wheels came off: because the lion barked. And young Wen “knew straight away what it was and that I’d lied to him.”
A zoo official in Henan province said the dog – owned by one of the workers – was put in the cage when the real lion was sent away to a breeding centre. “We’re doing our best in tough economic times”, he said: “If anyone is unhappy with our displays we will give back their money.”
Soon a queue was forming outside the ticket office: turns out other species were also mislabeled; there was a white fox in a leopard’s den and another dog being passed off as a wolf. My favourite, though, was a pair of large rats – proudly displayed in a glass cage meant for snakes. “Reptiles” – said the label.
Last Friday the zoo was closed for a “rectification” of the signs.
I love inventive people – making do with what you have to hand is probably the most important of survival skills. And, let’s face it, that’s exactly what the Zoo did. The best part is, I am convinced these good people learned this ‘dog-as-cat’ trick from Africa. From a nice Garage Owner in Mitchell’s Plain, South Africa, to be exact.
A couple of years ago, sick of the acquisitive habits of tik (crystal meth) addicts, who kept breaking into his store to steal tools, tyres, etc: this fellow put the word out that he had a lion that would attack anyone that tried to climb over his fence.
It worked then. And the Chinese zookeeps had no reason to believe it wouldn’t work now. However, they forgot to factor in that tik-heads are infinitely more open to suggestion, than an observant Henan housewife.
Yu Hua, a spokesman for the People’s Park said that the zoo had been run by a private businessman since 1998, at an annual rent of 100,000 yuan ($16,000). An expensive investment for him – especially when you factor in the price of wild animals these days and all those pesky legal regulations governing moving lions from Africa to live out their days in small concrete cells in chilly parts of China. Add to that a Chinese government dictat that animal shows must stop (no more tap-dancing bears, fire juggling penguins etc) and that zoos should operate on a non-profit basis – and you’ve got a perfect storm of “when the needs must, the devil drives”.
I won’t even get into the gullibility of the public. Most kids these days have seen “The Lion King” for god’s sake, and National Geographic is always showing documentaries on big cats – how the hell anyone was fooled is beyond me. All I can hope, having seen the miserable cage that poor lion lives in, is that he had a damn good time at the breeding program.
(All images in the public domain. Camparigirl, the Mitchell’s Plain lion is for you, I know you love that shot.)