Animals Asia returns to Grandview as it continues to make headlines

13 July 2016

Grandview has opened its doors again to Animals Asia and promises a better life for its animals – but its refusal to release them leaves us with a moral question, writes Dave Neale.

See also:

This Chinese mall has become a prison for animals

Pressure increases on “World’s Saddest Zoo” after Animals Asia report

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"World's saddest zoo" bosses invite Animals Asia to discuss concerns

A polar bear at the Grandview Aquarium

Here’s the problem that we face every single day in working with captive animals in Asia. Threatening frequently changes little – while walking away changes nothing. Staying and talking and working together means there’s an on-going chance for positive change.

But who wants to make talk and work with people who manage animals in ways that cause them to suffer?

The answer is, we do.

For many years Hanoi Zoo was a tragic place and was showing no signs of improvement and the truth is it is still far from acceptable with more needing to be done to improve the welfare of the animals. But by listening and talking and understanding attitudes and limited resources, we’ve helped. We talked them into unchaining elephants so they could walk around their enclosure. We built structures for bears and tigers to climb and rest on. We slowly converted concrete pits to spaces that at least had some appeal to the animals. 

We’ve made the animals’ lives worth living. And – after gaining their confidence over an extended period – they quietly told us they had listened and they would be closing their animal circus. We had talked them into doing it but we didn’t make them do it.

That’s the context in which we met the bosses of Grandview – it is difficult for me to work with people that have chosen to house animals such as this bear in such poor conditions, but they were very open. This was our second meeting and this time I saw their facilities from top to bottom. There was no attempt to hide anything from me. We also spoke to more junior staff who actually look after the animals. And now I know that our concerns are theirs too. The day after our visit, following our basic recommendations, the bear keeper provided piles of snow for the bears and is now starting a programme of enrichment. We’re going to input into that for the bears and for the other animals too.

Because the sad truth is, in this instance, we can’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. 

Polar Bear at Grandview Aquarium

The pressure has been relentless. Even since I visited, the issue has reached wider media attention being reported here, here and here. And our petition has reached over 500,000 signatures.

But while negative media coverage has upset them – that was why I was invited – unfortunately it hasn’t appeared to limit visitor numbers. Animal lovers may be boycotting the facility, but those less well aware of the issues are not. Commercially, any impact is not hurting. But please know that you are being heard and it is directly contributing to the opportunity to make these lives better.

Of course, however, we run the risk by advising Grandview, of being seen as legitimising such conditions – but we can’t walk away.

A polar bear at the Grandview Aquarium

By continuing to talk and advise we can help make significant changes. Longer term we can keep talking in the right ears. There are animal lovers among the staff as distraught as we are about what we are seeing not just in Grandview but across China. They want to help.

We want them to work with us and fight for what we believe in – and we have much to learn from each other. Not least about the wider captive animal industry in China of which this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We hope one day that all of these animals can live in more natural surroundings – but in the meantime we won’t leave them to suffer. They have friends – millions of them, across the world.

Make no mistake. Keeping animals in this way is not acceptable. We’ll keep helping, we’ll keep pushing for change. We do appreciate being listened to. We appreciate doors and minds being opened.

If our experience has taught us anything – first you open doors, then you open cages.

Dave Neale

Dave Neale is Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director