This week, I have twice visited the Changsha zoo. It really is that good. Seth didn’t get to go the first time, so I wanted him to have the chance to go before the weather got too cold. Zoe and I went to the zoo the first time on our own because we thought it wouldn’t be that great. Zoos in China are notoriously bad. They usually range from simply disappointing (small, dirty, falling apart) to downright criminal (animals starving and abused). In fact, a recent article on echinacities, listed visiting a Chinese zoo as one of the top 5 things *not* to do in China.
But the new Changsha Ecological Zoo is a great bright spot on the otherwise tarnished history of animal rights in China.
Location: 长沙县暮云镇西湖村(芙蓉南路) (this is very far south, near the south bus station on FuRong Nan Lu)
Transit: from walking street, this will cost you t least 45 kuai by taxi. We live north of Changsha near metro and the cost by taxi was between 60-75 kuai depending on which way the driver went. There are a few buses that run out to the far south side of town. The one I saw the most was bus 134. You can catch this bus at the south end of walking street and take it all the way there.
Cost: for both the walking and riding safari, the cost is 80 yuan, for just one part, the cost is 45 yuan. The first time you go, I recommend buying the combo ticket. Buying the combo ticket also gets you half price on the shows inside the zoo. There are also other activities to do in the zoo that cost extra, so take some extra kuais and souvenir money. Infants, Primary school age children, middle school age children, and persons over 65 all get in free! This helps keep the park busy with school groups even on slow days.
Overview: Chinese zoos in general are very, very poor quality. If you are from a western country that has animal rights and standards, a Chinese zoo usually will bring you to tears. However, the new Changsha zoo is unlike any other zoo in China. It is on par (or even surpasses) American zoos. The park is clean and has an open, modern design. The animals are all healthy and happy. They are all active and playful. Their coats are sleek, fluffy, and clean. The animals are all average weight or even overweight. The handlers are all professional and kind to the animals. One great example of this is the elephant show. Backstage you can see the elephants almost giddy with excitement. They will be swinging their legs and tapping their trunks waiting to go out. The handlers have the dreaded metal hooks for controlling them (a common tool even by American zoo and circus handlers), but never have to use them. The head trainer/mahout is from Thailand and really has a connection with his animals.
The biggest problem was the litter from the Chinese tourists. But park employees were continually sweeping and picking up the trash to keep it as clean as possible. Of course, this sparkling, loving appearance might erode over time. In another 5 years, it might become as depressing as any other Chinese zoo. I certainly hope not, but just to be safe go to the zoo now as soon as possible before this happens. Also, by supporting the zoo it will have more incentive and money to take care of itself.
As I said the park is divided into 2 parts: the walking safari and the safari on wheels. The safari on wheels is worth doing at least the first time you visit. There are a few animals like white tigers and giraffes that you can’t see on the walking safari. Also, while we we’re in our bus, we saw another blue bus that had guests feeding the white tigers chunks of meat out of. This wasn’t in the brochure though, so we didn’t know about it until we saw it. I don’t know how much this costs or how to get it, but I would recommend that if you go with Chinese friends, have them ask “how do we get on the blue bus that feeds the white tigers.” If I find out, I will update this post. The safari on wheels tour is about 20 minutes long. The buses only have 1 or 2 people for each window so every seat is a good one. The animals are mostly free range. They are in very large natural habitats so it is neat to see them slinking and hiding about. There are herbivores and carnivores and birds. It can be hard to take pictures because of the glass (you are completely encased in the bus), but it is still a neat ride and lots of fun. The best time to go is early morning. The second time I went, we went about 9:30 in the morning and the animals were being fed so they were out eating and exploring.
The walking safari is the bulk of the zoo and is just like any other traditional zoo. The animals are in large enclosures that you walk to and explore. There is the line of big cat cages, monkey islands, African animal enclosures, and probably the thing that surprised me the most – the panda house. That’s right. No need to go all the way to Chengdu to see these endangered teddy bears, you can see them right here in Changsha. They currently have 2 pandas with indoor and outdoor viewing. Inside you can watch a video in English or in Chinese about pandas. This is also where you can find I think the only zoo-owned gift shop in the park. You can find unique gifts like chopsticks, socks, and lapel pins, along with the usual assortment of stuffed animals. This is a great stop for finding gifts for back home.
Food: there are many snack stands offering chips, hot pots, sodas, and ice cream. But there is also a restaurant that has kfc-type American fare and on busy days also has Chinese food.
Other: There are lots of little things to do in the park. First there is the elephant show. It is 20 kuai regularly or if you bought the combo ticket at the gate it is only 10 kuai. During the show, you can buy carrots or pumpkin to feed the elephants for 10 kaui. After the show you can ride the elephant and get pictures taken. For 30 kuai (per person) you can sit on the elephant and they will take a pic for you and give you a 5×7 picture. For 80 kuai you can ride the elephant and your party can take as many pics as you want. For 100 kuai you can ride the elephant and they will take a pic for you and give you a 5×7. Also, don’t miss out on Lemur Island where you can feed lemurs. For 20 kuai per person you get a small cup of mashed up bananas and a spoon. The lemurs will come right up to you and even sit on your lap for a chance at the nommy goodness. There don’t seem to be any age restrictions at this time, but be careful if you take small children who might tease or touch the monkeys too much, some may bite. You can see video of me feeding the lemurs here. Finally, you can feed a tiger. Yes, the biggest criticism of most of Chinas zoos is available here. For 20 kuai you can feed a piece of dead meat to a tiger from a fishing pole. Or for 50 kuai you can feed a live chicken to them. You can see video of Seth feeding the tigers here. Whatever you may think of this common practice, you should know that the tigers love this. They are not starving, only surviving by the sacrifice of chickens, but they are wild beasts who enjoy hunting and playing with their food. If you do chose to participate or at least watch, just think of it as your house cat with her favorite feather toy. The tigers love to play with their chickens! You can also ride a camel or pony, or get your pictures taken with peacocks, all for additional fees. The zoo also features special events. The weekend before we went they had the Changsha Pet Expo (I was really sorry to miss that). So if you can read Chinese, I encourage you to check out the website to stay appraised of current events.
The future of the zoo: There are many things to look forward to and reasons to go back. The zoo is currently constructing an aquatic theater where they will have dolphin shows. Also, they have not finished the outside elephant enclosure. At this time you can only see the elephants at the elephant show, but they are nearing completion of the elephant habitat. We also saw many animals busy making the next generation of zoo residents, so hopefully in the spring time there will be lots of little critters to entertain you and your little ones. I am hoping that come spring time they will have more petting areas with the new baby animals (it would be a great way for the zoo to milk even more money out of me!).
Summary: the zoo is awesome, worth the money; support your local Changsha dongwuyuan today!
We went back for a spring trip over QingMing weekend to see if there had been any changes or update to the zoo.
1) The aquatic theater is still under construction and looks to be a long way off from being finished.
2) To feed the tigers on the little blue bus, it is an extra 20 RMB per person and you can buy them at the bus loading area inside the park after you buy the combo ticket at the gate. But they don’t do this on Mondays (so we still didn’t get to feed the white tigers!)
3) The zoo now has 4 pandas.
4) The only bus going out there now seems to be bus 125. I think this is just a newly busy area so they are still adjusting the bus routes. But honestly it is just easier to get a taxi.
5) The lemurs are still awesome and had the cutest babies!