More than 285,000 people have signed a petition calling for the closure of an aquarium in southern China that is home to an animal dubbed “the world's saddest polar bear”. The lethargic bear, whose name is Pizza, is on show at an “ocean theme park” ...
Tom Phillips in Beijing
Wednesday 20 July 2016 04.55Â BST
Last modified on Wednesday 20 July 2016 09.24Â BST
More than 285,000 people have signed a petition calling for the closure of an aquarium in southern China that is home to an animal dubbed â€œthe worldâ€™s saddest polar bearâ€.
The lethargic bear, whose name is Pizza, is on show at an â€œocean theme parkâ€ located inside the Grandview shopping centre in the city of Guangzhou.
The aquarium made international headlines after its opening in early January with one Hong Kong-based animal rights charity denouncing it as a â€œhorrifyingâ€ animal prison.
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The parkâ€™s management initially rejected claims that Pizza was being mistreated. â€œThe polar bear in the aquarium is very happy,â€ Li Chengtang, its deputy manager, told the Guangzhou Daily newspaper.
However, amid outrage over the dismal conditions in which the animals were being forced to live, as tourists posed for selfies beside them, members of the Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia were invited to visit the aquarium in April.
The activist group said the theme parkâ€™s management had been â€œgenuinely shockedâ€ by the international outcry and had sought advice on how to improve conditions.
Animals Asia said there was no indication the aquarium would be closed or its animals, which also include arctic wolves, beluga whales and walrus calves, rehoused.
However, writing last week, Dave Neale, the groupâ€™s animal welfare director, said the parkâ€™s directors had promised â€œa better life for its animalsâ€ as a result of pressure.
Neale said engagement had previously led to positive changes at a zoo in Hanoi where the charity convinced zoo keepers to unchain elephants, end animal â€œcircusesâ€ and provide better living conditions for bears and tigers.
â€œThreatening frequently changes little â€“ while walking away changes nothing. Staying and talking and working together means thereâ€™s an on-going chance for positive change,â€ Neale argued.
While Chinaâ€™s economic boom is fading, the countryâ€™s amusement park industry is booming as an increasingly affluent middle-class seeks new forms of entertainment. According to one campaigning group, China is currently home to at least 39 ocean theme parks. More than a dozen more are scheduled to open over the next two years.
Calls for the aquariumâ€™s closure continued this week on Chinese social media. â€œIt is torture! Please boycott it!â€ read one comment on Weibo, Chinaâ€™s Twitter.
Animal Asia said it would continue to fight to improve conditions in such attractions.
â€œThe sad truth is, in this instance, we canâ€™t immediately shut down Grandview. And they are unlikely to free this bear, or any of the other animals they house, at least not in the short-term,â€ Neale admitted, adding: â€œIf our experience has taught us anything â€“ first you open doors, then you open cages.â€
Additional reporting by Christy Yao
China,Asia Pacific,World news,Animal welfare,Animals