A Chinese zoo is denying that its Malayan sun bears are humans dressed in costumes after visitors claimed the bears’ behaviours strongly resembled that of a person. A video of the bear, named Angela, was posted on social media and went viral, showing the bear standing on her hind legs and facing onlookers before sitting down and walking away.
Hangzhou Zoo, located in the eastern province of Zhejiang has insisted the video is of a bear, clarifying that they are just smaller than the bears people are typically used to seeing. When standing on their hind legs, sun bears stand at only 51 inches tall, making them the smallest of their species, the majority of which stand at roughly 110 inches tall.
“Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much,” Hangzhou Zoo wrote on its social media account on Sunday. Speaking from the perspective of the bear, Angela, the post continued, “Previously, some tourists thought that I was too tiny to be a bear. I have to emphasize again: I am a Malayan sun bear! Not a black bear! Not a dog! A sun bear!”
It is not unusual for Malayan sun bears to stand on their hind legs as the height allows them to reach higher ground and better observe their surroundings. Although walking upright is a rare trait in bears, female sun bears have “been observed cradling a cub in their arms while walking on their hind legs,” according to National Geographic.
Hangzhou Zoo did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but an employee adamantly told a Beijing TV station that Angela is not a human. “In 40-degree Celsius [104° F] summer heat, a human in a leather and fur suit would pass out in a few minutes,” he said, adding that using stand-ins “doesn’t normally happen in state-owned zoos,” The Washington Post reported.
However, concerns that Angela is a human are not completely unfounded as several Chinese zoos have been accused of replacing animals in their enclosures. In 2019, a privately owned safari park in the eastern province of Jiangsu faced backlash after it allegedly hired a human to dress as an orangutan. The zoo later claimed it was an April Fool’s Day prank.
In 2013, a visitor noticed a zoo in Louhe, a city in the central province of Henan, was passing off a Tibetan Mastiff in an enclosure labelled “African Lion.” Another zoo in Sichuan province had a golden retriever also labelled in an enclosure for an African lion while other Chinese zoos were criticized for painting dogs to look like wolves and keeping donkeys in the zebra enclosures.
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