'Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much,' an official statement from the zoo read.
One zoo found itself in a bizarre conundrum when it had to prove that the animals it housed are in fact animals and not people in costumes pretending to be animals. A zoo in eastern China has denied that its bears are humans in costumes after a video of one standing like a human went viral on social media, reports CNN.
After a 15-second clip was posted on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, on July 27, the video of the bear standing and interacting with tourists went viral. Footage of a Malayan sun bear standing on its hind legs sparked speculation on the Chinese internet, but the zoo in the eastern province of Zhejiang insisted it is a bear, just smaller and different from what we're used to seeing.
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"I'm Angela the sun bear – I got a call after work yesterday from the head of the zoo asking if I was being lazy and skipped work today and found a human to take my place," Hangzhou Zoo wrote on its official social media account from the perspective of the bear in the video, called Angela. "Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much. 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!"
People questioned whether the bear was a human in disguise, based on its behavior and visible folds of fur on its body, which resembles a human wearing ill-fitting clothing. According to an expert, such speculation is unfounded. The animal in the video is "definitely a sun bear," according to Wong Siew Te, a wildlife biologist and the founder of Malaysia's Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He has been studying the animal for approximately 25 years.
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Sun bear mothers could even walk on their hind legs while carrying their babies in their hands, Wong shared with NBC. "Sun bears could be very human-like," he said. "They stand like humans and walk like humans."
"I never thought it could be human in disguise," said Gino Liu, a previous visitor to Hangzhou Zoo. "It is a bear but really looks like a human." An employee denied the allegation in an audio recording posted by Chinese state media, saying that "human beings cannot last for a few minutes in a fur suit" in the area's high summer temperatures (104 F). According to the zoo, sun bears are the smallest bears, standing at most 1.3 meters (51 inches) tall, while other species can stand at most 2.8 meters (110 inches) tall on their hind legs.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of sun bears has decreased by more than 30% in the last 30 years. They are also listed as vulnerable animals on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list. "Sun bears are the least known bears in the world," Wong said. "I believe the incident could call people’s attention to how sun bears may look like humans and hopefully could [let people know] that they are endangered species because of human activities," he added, citing large-scale deforestation and hunting.
Other Chinese zoos have previously been chastised for dyeing their dogs to resemble wolves. In 2013, a city zoo in central Henan province infuriated visitors by mistaking a Tibetan Mastiff dog for a lion. When visitors approached the enclosure and heard the "lion" bark, they were taken aback.