Today we accidentally went to the zoo.
Trying to pretend Shanghai’s winter is not happening we picked a road and cycled west. Shortly before Hongqiao Road turns into Hongqiao Airport Runway, it goes straight past the big, forbidding gates of Shanghai Zoo.
They’re forbidding thanks to stories of Beijing Zoo and China’s somewhat lacklustre relationship with animals… our minds are clouded with thoughts of what the Shanghainese can come up with. We took a deep breath, stepped inside and the truth is – Shanghai’s Zoo is kind-of okay.
It’s massive for a start. 40RMB buys a pretty major stake in the animal kingdom. Even if you don’t count the boring areas (ungulates and birds) there’s still enough of the Ark for 2-3 hours of wandering and a couple rides on the dodgems. Yeah, dodgems. This wouldn’t be a proper Chinese park without a handful of fairground rides and guys selling boiled sweetcorn.
As if they know what you’re thinking – positioned around the grounds are tables with fresh salads, a few fish, a big pile of seeds and a sign saying “we’re gonna feed the emus ALL of this at three o’clock”.
We spent the most time bonding with the monkeys, relishing the periods of quiet in between passing groups of locals incessantly banging on the windows for a second or two of attention. Looking on, we were left wondering who was on which side of the glass.
The big silverback was a big pull and unfortunately the one seemingly kept most captive. Even though his area was the size of a church it looked like he’d sat long enough counting his fingers and listening to his tasty son monkeying around next door.
The star of the show is of course the Giant Panda. Folks were congregating around the spacious pen to watch them doze for 23 hours a day and guzzle bamboo like shots at a stag party. “They’re dirtier than the cartoons” announced one nearby visitor. Nice one.
To be honest I’m more of a fan of the red panda, still known in china as the “lesser panda”.
Other highlights included the luminous green hippo tank (minus hippo), a jiggling bunch of penguins (minus one outcast who was stood in the distance on his own) and the outdoor cylindrical goldfish tanks with massively magnified sticklebacks.
Lowlights have to be the couple of jaguars huddling in their Kosovo-themed pen and the huge tiger with nowhere to run… although he didn’t seem too bothered as he sprawled out in the sun. Regardless it was a shame to see such kings of the jungle kept captive.
This being China it seems only fitting to part with a joke. Here a local stands considering what to order from this massive restaurant menu.