Don’t feed the zoo animals (And please don’t eat them either)

Don’t feed the zoo animals (And please don’t eat them either)


Would you eat kangaroo tail for lunch?

At the Beijing zoo, you can admire the plumage of brazen peacocks, watch hippos play in the water, and observe scaly crocodiles basking in the sun. Then, when you get hungry, you can dine at the zoo’s restaurant and eat the same species that you paid to come see! The Bin Feng Tang restaurant’s menu includes exotic dishes such as shark fin soup, kangaroo tail, hippopotamus toes, and–for the boldest customers–deer penis. Ge Rui, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says, “One of the zoo’s missions is to foster love of animals and a desire to protect them. But by selling the meat of caged beasts, this zoo stimulates consumption and increases pressure on animals in the wild. It is socially irresponsible.” However, the zoo argues that the meat served in the restaurant comes from exotic animal farms and that its purchase and sale is perfectly legal. Legal or not, how can this zoo ignore the fact that this practice is promoting a distinction between the animals in the cages and the animals that end up on patrons’ plates?

Unfortunately, the Beijing zoo isn’t the only place where exotic animals are treated as commercial property and profit generators, without regard for the health of the animals themselves or the preservation of their species. Last month, Zimbabwean wildlife authorities sold two 18-month-old baby elephants to North Korea for $10,000 each, despite North Korea’s questionable history of animal rights. In Iraq, an exotic animal market in Baghdad sells lion cubs, monkeys, porcupines, owls, bears, crocodiles, and pelicans–among other species–to anyone who has enough money to buy them. Local families use the market as a zoo; even if they cannot afford a lion cub (about $6,000), they can watch the animals from their cages or take home a more reasonably priced ‘pet’, like a rabbit or duck ($8). The Iraqi government does not regulate the wildlife trade and many of the animals sold at the market are imported illegally. Without animal rights legislation and enforcement in countries such as Iraq, North Korea, and China, it’s unlikely that the highly profitable trade of these exotic species will end. And–with hippo meat on the menu at zoos and lions for sale as pets at the market–it’s unlikely that the public’s perception of animals as food or property will change.

Photo courtesy of Tim Williams