Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 12 March 2021


Chinese hotel with polar bear enclosure opens to outrage

Harbin hotel keeping threatened species in pen overlooked by bedrooms angers animal welfare groups

View of bear enclosure from above
Hotel guests watch the polar bears in their enclosure at the hotel in Harbin, China. Photograph: AFP/Getty
Agence France-Presse in Beijing

Last modified on Fri 12 Mar 2021 18.43 GMT

A Chinese hotel built around a central polar bear enclosure for the non-stop viewing pleasure of its guests has opened to immediate condemnation from conservationists.

At Harbin Polar Land in north-east China, the hotel bedrooms’ windows face onto the bears’ pen, with visitors told the animals are their “neighbours 24 hours a day”.

A video shows the bears – a threatened species – being photographed by crowds of guests under harsh warm lights, in a space consisting of fake rocks and icicles and a white painted floor.

Animal rights organisations reacted with outrage, urging customers to stay away from establishments profiting “from animals’ misery”.

“Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums - and certainly not in hotels,” said Peta Asia’s vice-president, Jason Baker.

Polar bear near glass viewing window
Visitors look at a polar bear in the enclosure. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Harbin is famous for its ice-carving festival, and the hotel resembles a giant igloo, its roof topped with artificial ice. But some Chinese social media users expressed unease at the theme being taken to this extreme.

“A panoramic prison for polar bears … Haven’t we learned anything about animal cruelty?” one commentator said.

Most polar bears to disappear by 2100, study predicts Read more

“Gaps in China’s wildlife protection law allows businesses to exploit animals without any concern for their welfare,” a spokesman for China Animal Protection Network, who declined to be named, told AFP.

Chinese authorities recently changed the law to ban the consumption of wildlife for food, after speculation over the origins of the coronavirus nudged investigators towards a Wuhan market where live animals were for sale.

But the use of parts of endangered species in traditional medicine remains rampant, and Chinese circuses and zoos are often criticised for poor standards of animal housing and care.

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