Friday, March 02, 2007

Eye of the Tiger: The Shanghai Zoo

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a closeted zoo junkie. So when I heard that I lived near the Shanghai Zoo I busted out the safari lens and frolicked over with some friends, eagerly anticipating pandas, giraffes, tigers and Asian animal goodness.

The landscaping was truly impressive: pagodas, streams and quaint little bridges. But some rather strange things happened whilst we strolled around. Stray cats and dogs scampered around. Animal habitats resembled Manhattan apartments rather than African savannas and the zoo was eerily void of people, even though it was Friday afternoon.

The animals seemed really happy to see us, which was neat from a tourist perspective (it's not every day that one finds thyself face to face with a tiger), but ultimately depressed us all. There was no evidence of animal trainers or regular interaction with these critters. Most came right up to us, then continued to mope around their filthy cages as soon as we walked away. Then again, if I lived in a sewage pit of neglect, I'd be pretty melancholy, too.

And since the cages were filthy, the animals had plenty of opportunity to roll around in their own feces. Zebras were less distinguishable (eeewwww) and litter was strewn about, in addition to algae, mud and overall murk.

From a Western perspective, perhaps the strangest (and ultimately disturbing) part of the zoo was a section full of terrariums about the size of a closet with a dog occupying each. Most of the dogs reeked of puppy mill and traumatized most of us, as each of them reminded us of our own doggies. Their cells were mocked up to look like mini houses complete with linoleum and cheap furniture. The dogs were filthy, barking and yearned for someone to play with them. I don't actually think that their treatment was any worse than the other animals' just struck a chord with us to imagine our own childhood canines eating their own poops out of boredom.

Other than the animals, there were some strange statues, signs in Engrish and rusty fair rides. As the sun began to set, we fled the scene, feeling like we were trapped in the beginning of a bad horror movie. We shook off the horror of the afternoon with a traditional Chinese feast and some authentic karaoke with locals, but I woke up this morning thinking about urine-soaked pandas and knew that the Shanghai Zoo really happened.