A hotel in China has opened its doors to widespread outrage and condemnation from animal rights groups over its main draw: live polar bears.
Images of the new hotel have gone viral online since its official opening on Friday. They show two fully grown adult polar bears exploring their artificial surroundings – in full view of visitors and guests, whose rooms overlooked the pens.
“It is shocking and heart-breaking to see an enclosure like this, in this time and age, that houses polar bears in such appalling environments purely for entertainment,” said Anbarasi Boopal, co-CEO of Singapore-based wildlife organization ACRES.
In response to a question about the polar bears’ well-being, a spokesperson for the hotel told VICE World News the animals were kept in “appropriate air-conditioned environments, with plenty of space to mimic conditions in the arctic.”
The hotel, located in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, is part of a popular theme park that features arctic and ocean attractions. All 21 guest rooms have been fully booked over a “trial period” until May, the spokesperson said.
But Boopal said that air-conditioned enclosures for the bears were simply not enough.
“Barren floors, artificial decorations and 24-hour exposure for guests – all these completely disregard and disrespect these animals who can get very stressed out from the lack of private hiding spaces and will display stereotypic behaviours to cope with stress,” she said.
Often called China’s “ice city”, Harbin is famous for its bitter cold weather as well as hosting the world’s biggest annual snow and ice sculpture festival.
Critical comments from Chinese social media users have flooded the hotel’s page, slamming the facility for “cruelty” and exploiting the animals for profit.
“The entire thing lacks awareness and class,” wrote one Weibo user in a top rated comment on a post that shared pictures of the bears roaming around their enclosure. “I don’t see how anyone can find enjoyment in another being’s suffering.”
“Surely there are more educational and ethical ways of learning about polar bears rather than resorting to something like this?”
The exhibit of polar bears in the Harbin hotel echoed the treatment of Pizza, which in 2016 was called the world’s “saddest polar bear” after it was put in a glass enclosure in a Chinese shopping mall and showed signs of distress. The bear was moved to an aquarium and reunited with his mother following a global campaign calling for the bear’s release.
“Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums – and certainly not in hotels,” said Jason Baker, senior vice president at animal rights group PETA.
“They are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life.”
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