To kick off 2013 (Happy New Year BTW), we headed just outside of Haikou proper to another Haikou zoo yesterday (map). As I’ve said before, I’m always apprehensive about going to Chinese zoos, as they are virtually without exception terribly organized and maintained. The Haikou zoo downtown is a spot-on example of this — if all zoos are prisons for animals, the Haikou zoo is straight out of Midnight Express. Visiting it defines “ironic tourism.”
Fortunately, the “Hainan Tropical Garden of Wild Flora and Fauna” is somewhat of a polar opposite — at least as Chinese zoos go. It is bit rusted and worn, and nearly all the animals have a learned look of begging for food, but the enclosures themselves are impressively large; and there is a fair amount of diversity among the species (and only 1 breed of dog in a cage!).
It is also heavily saturated with Ligers (and Tigons — yep, that’s a thing). And while it’s just the big-cat equivalent of looking at mules and hinnies, it’s still kind of neat.
The zoo is divided into a safari-style drive-through section, and a walk-through section. We went with some fantastic friends who have a car (that’s not why they’re fantastic … not entirely), and so didn’t have to arrange seats on a bus or in a rented car while there — but I believe both are available. We also saw a good number of people going through in taxis.
For all the warnings that we had during the “ferocious animal” parts of the driving part, the animals were (disappointingly) docile. I’m not saying we needed the bears to be trying to open the car doors (as we had been warned about), but mostly the bears and lions just laid around staring with bordem as we drove past.
Most zoos I’ve been to in China score points with me for allowing a dangerous level of intimacy with the animals, and this one was no exception. As much as I’m (reasonably) certain it’s secure, there’s something a bit terrifying standing eye-to-eye with a massive Siberian tiger and realizing that all that stands between “tourist” and “lunch” is a rusty chain link fence.
The trip also gave Casey a chance to get up close and personal with some animals in a way that he hadn’t before. Many areas in the zoo allow you to purchase food for the animals and feed them. This ranges from sweet potato slices for the giraffes and carrots for camels to live chickens for tigers and fish for crocodiles. I wasn’t really eager to find out what sort of impact watching a chicken get torn to pieces has on a 2-year-old, so we stuck to feeding the herbivores.
Two of the highlights for me were getting as close to a hippo as I’d ever care to, and being surrounded by fearless monkeys just looking to rob us blind (nearly taking the cell phone off of one of our group).
And what would any trip to a Chinese attraction be without a whole glut of Chinglish
All in all, a fantastic day. Huge thanks to Jonathan and Christina for inviting us along with them and their girls.