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Ageing animals in old Guangzhou zoo lack the lustre
By Liang Qiwen (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-25 08:55

It is a Saturday afternoon, visitors to the Guangzhou Zoo are few, lonely animals saunter in the genial sunshine.

"The situation has been like this for several years," a ticketing officer said.

Only 2 million people visited the zoo annually in the past few years, far less than the record of 4 million in the late 1970s.

As one of China's three major zoos, following the Beijing and Shanghai zoos, Guangzhou Zoo is facing a serious operating crisis.

In the memory of most Guangzhou residents, the Guangzhou Zoo was an animal kingdom, as well as an off-campus class to learn about zoology.

"When I was in primary school, children took pride in visiting the zoo, but that's no longer the case," said a visitor surnamed Wang in his 30s.

Wang brought his son to the zoo, saying it is a place for children to learn about zoology, even in the centre of Guangzhou.

But he found most of the animals look familiar and suspects they have been in the zoo for over 10 years, growing old along with the zoo facilities.

An animal expert said if an animal stays in a cage too long, it loses its innate behaviours and also its zoological value.

Yao Xuewen, deputy-director of the Guangzhou Zoo, says the zoo regularly exchanged rare animals with zoos in other countries when it was in its golden age.

The existent African elephants, rhinoceros, and hippos in the zoo are offspring of the animals exchanged during the zoo's peak.

In 1978, two pandas from the zoo went to a show at the Hong Kong Ocean Park for two months. Two years later, another two pandas went abroad to Fukuoka, Japan, initiating a new upsurge of panda interest in Japan.

But such exchange programmes have been suspended for several years.

The zoo's present can not be compared with its past, it did not keep up with Guangzhou's development.

Many local visitors to the zoo said its facilities have not been improved in the last 20 years.

Walking around in the zoo, visitors can find many cages and enclosures covered in rust.

The monkey garden was once a very popular spot in the zoo. But now only a stone hill is left in the garden, all the trees have gone.

"Swarming up and down trees is people's impression of monkeys, but we can not see that scene in Guangzhou's zoo, it is really a pity," a visitor from Shandong told China Daily.

As the monkeys only refuge, the stone hill looks out-dated and is covered with dust.

A keeper said the monkeys were very active in the past, but as visitor number reduces, they seem to be more quiet.

Besides internal troubles, the 46-year-old zoo also faces great challenges from newly-built zoos.

Guangzhou Panyu Xiangjiang Safari Park and the Guangzhou Chime Long Night Zoo are two large-scale private-owned safari parks set up in recent years in Panyu, a suburban district south of Guangzhou. Both of them are owned by Guangzhou Chime Long Group.

The ticket prices for Xiangjiang and Chime Long Night Zoo are 120 yuan (US$14) and 145 yuan (US$17) respectively, much higher than Guangzhou Zoo's 20 yuan (US$2.4) entrance fee.

However, the two parks have attracted a large number of high-end consumers, including rich families from the Pearl River Delta and visitors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Li, a marketing manager of Chime Long Night Zoo who refused to give his full name, said the zoo receives over 15,000 visitors a day during holidays.

According to Li, the zoo's founder, Chime Long Group, has invested 900 million yuan (US$108 million) in the zoo since it began construction in 2000, now the group gains a net profit of about 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) per day from the zoo.

With the powerful backing of Chime Long Group, over 90 per cent of Xiangjiang Park and Chime Long Night Zoo's animals are imported from other countries, such as South Africa and Thailand.

The group gathered a large sum of money to invite overseas circuses and wild animal trainers to put on exciting performances for visitors.

"They are not purely zoos, but pleasure grounds," said Li.

Yao Xuewen admitted that the multi-management of Xiangjiang and Chime Long has seized a large part of the market.

The Guangzhou Zoo's embarrassing finances make it very difficult for the zoo to get out of its dilemma.

Yao said the zoo is State-owned, but it assumes sole responsibility for its profits or losses, only receiving about 1 million yuan (US$120,000) for maintenance from the municipal government.

"The money is just enough to pay for painting cages," said Yao.

Due to the lack of money, the zoo can not introduce new animals. Some of the animals have to inbreed to produce offspring, leading to low-quality descendants.

But the Beijing Zoo, another State-owned zoo in the capital of China, receives different treatment from its local government.

It receives over 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) from Beijing's municipal government annually.

Back in Guangzhou, Yao said zoo managers are thinking about how to extricate the zoo from its difficult position. "We have applied to the municipal government for more money," Yao said. "We hope finances will be easier next year."

The zoo plans to invite public bidding to the shops and restaurants in the zoo, seeking more non-government finance.

In order to enhance its attraction, the zoo has to tighten its belt to pool millions of yuan to introduce new animals, and to rebuild the orange garden.

Xiao Bin, a professor of School Government at Zhongshan University, said the Guangzhou Zoo should not be mentioned in the same breath as Xiangjiang and Chime Long.

He suggests the zoo increases ticket prices. "The zoo already has a spot in many memories," Xiao said. "I hope it can survive."

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