Shanghai Zoo China Zoo Review

Shanghai Zoo, China – Zoo Review

The RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review is a quick but informed guide to the quality of places where the public can see animals, including zoos, dolphinariums and other attractions.

We’ve used a range of measures, taken from information available online, to judge how well the animals at the particular zoo or animal attraction are looked after. More than just a ‘review’, the results are actually a Quality Index which will allow tourists and the attractions themselves to judge how well the attractions are performing.

Please note, the information we use is taken from what we assume to be genuine and factually correct comments from reviews, blogs and news stories. If there are factual inaccuracies, please let us know and we will make the relevant changes.


Summary for: Shanghai Zoo, China

The largest zoo in the world’s largest city has some very large problems. From staff deaths to visitors throwing litter and harassing animals to a “Hell for dogs” and the “Wild Animal Olympics”, this zoo has more than a little work to do to meet the global standards of animal care expected of zoos of this size.

China’s track record with animal welfare and rights has never exactly been good, and this zoo seems to be no exception. A “home” to over 6,000 animals this zoo has a massive amount of visitors everyday and even in the winter months appears to be full of tourists. It is these tourists that are indicated by so many reviews and articles to be one of the zoo’s largest problems. They seem to have free rein over the zoo and are not stopped from feeding the animals, nor are they prevented from throwing their rubbish or anything else into the cages. The main reason for this is to get the animals to move or look up for a photo. Should this kind of attitude still be allowed to exist in a zoo? Unfortunately the visitor impacts don’t finish there: an “exercise card” given to senior citizens to allow them free access into the grounds has resulted in many examples of animal harassment and disturbance from their music.

As with many zoos in the world the “VIP” animals, also known as the most profitable, have much more adequate accommodation than those animals that are less popular. This zoo epitomises everything I personally feel is bad in some of the world’s zoos: poor caging, lack of consideration; no enrichment or interest for the animals; animals treated like prisoners or worse. The “unacceptable” rating that this zoo achieved is its own merit and very little positives could be found about the zoo (and I tried very hard).

Nothing I say will be as adequate as one blog entry from a young girl that visited the zoo with her school. Her last phrases show more power than I could ever present here…

“I am so disappointed by the horrible zoo. I wish I could let all the animals go back to their own home. When I grow up, I going to change Shanghai Zoo to a better zoo.”

…I hope you do, because someone NEEDS to!

Brown_Bear_in_Shanghai_Zoo c

Report Card

Section One: Social Media and News

This section looks at how the attraction is rated by people on key reviewing sites, and in blogs/the media. The reviews are often not concerned with animal welfare, so this section has a lower influence on the overall mark than other sections. However, it is an important measure of the way the attraction is viewed by visitors.

Number of negative TripAdvisor reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the official TripAdvisor page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews:  16/20

Score: 0.5 points

A lot of the negative reviews talk about the lack of staff to care for the animals and the appalling state of some or most of the animals in this zoo. However, ALL of the negative reviews mention and are disgusted by the complete lack of disrespect that the visitors show and are allowed to show to the animals which include (but are NOT limited to): throwing rubbish into animal enclosures; throwing rubbish (and even rocks!) at the animals to illicit a reaction; feeding animals despite signs to the contrary; poking animals with sticks and cameras; banging on glass and rattling cages. Of the four other reviews only one stated that they believed the animals looked in good health and the other made no mention of the animal’s conditions.

Number of negative Google reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the Google search page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews:  1/1

Score: 0 points

Only one English review had been posted to google and as it’s short I repost it here:

“Not recommended, the situation for the animals is devastating. Tropical Animals are out in minus temperatures and Pandas have to stay in cold concrete buildings without anything else inside. Just terrible.”

Number of negative news articles and blogs
For the most recent 10 independent blogs or news articles for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative mentions: 8 /10

Score: 1 point

After trawling through literally hundreds of news reports of a keeper that was mauled to death by a hungry South China tiger I managed to find other articles or blogs. The news site the Shanghaiist had many stories detailing some of the practices and unknown abuses of the zoo including a dogs area where skinny, forlorn animals with open, festering wounds are left in bare metal cages with no food or water. They also spoke of the elephant shows the zoo conducts and again the thoughtless tourists molesting the animals. Another report had a link to a video of the “Wild Animal Olympics” and a bicycle race between a monkey and a bear (YES…you are reading that correctly…). As if this “contest” wasn’t enough to illustrate the lack of respect this zoo has for the animals in its care, after a collision between the two bicycles the bear attacks and mauls the monkey. The outcome of this was the unfortunate monkey killed and the poor bear being beaten with sticks to stop him from attacking. Finally one blog entry from a little girl on a school trip was found…please read this entry As the old adage goes “out of the mouths of babes (oft times comes gems)”.
In a lighter note there was a report of a woman losing her handbag in a tiger enclosure and a report about the baby animals that had been born at the zoo. Both of which were neutral as they didn’t mention animal welfare or conditions.

No positive reports were found.

Total Score for Social Media and News Section:  1.5/10

Section Two: General Quality of Life

This section looks generally at how the animals, as a whole, appear to be treated. It is based on the internationally recognised Five Freedoms, which focus on key aspects of animal welfare including feeding, housing, health, behaviour and protection from fear/distress.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The “Possibly” category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Absence of prolonged hunger and/or thirst

Score: No   0 Points

Many reports of animals desperately hungry and begging for food; animals with little or no water.
Being fed an appropriate diet based on their wild diet

Score: No   0 Points

One report I read stated that the tigers and crocodiles are sometime fed chickens and not red meat as a tiger would naturally eat. Red pandas also would not, as part of their wild diet, eat their own faeces. I really did check and there are no reports of adult pandas (red or not) practicing coprophagia (eating faeces).

Ease of movement within living quarters

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Some of the animals have large enclosures and have relative ease of movement, however these are generally the “VIPs” like the tigers a panda bears. Others have little to no room to move and explore.

Enrichment in living quarters (eg climbing frame, toys etc)

Score: Possibly   1 Point

As above “VIP” animals have a high level of enrichment and interest in their enclosures where as others have nothing. The “Pets World” section of the park consists of many pure breeds of dog living in little more than prison cells with broken walls and rusted bars.

Absence of injuries or disease

Score: No   0 Points

There are many reports of animals with open and festering sores on their bodies, most notably in the aforementioned “Pets World” or as one website titled it “Hell for Dogs”

Absence of pain (eg being not being chained, or not being hit by staff)

Score: No   0 Points

Apart from the above talked about open wounds there are also reports of animals being hit with sticks, elephants being chained and hit. There are also photos of other animals with wounds or sores. Above this, I believe, the worst incident I have read about is the feeding of live chickens to crocodiles to “entertain” the tourists that take the bus around the zoo. I appreciate that to most (vegetarians and vegans aside) a chicken is food, as it is to the crocodile as well, but this animal is also a sentient being and to be treated as nothing more than a device who’s death is considered “entertainment” is beyond reproach in my opinion.

Ability to express natural and social behaviours in living quarters

Score: Possibly   1 Point

There is a possibility that those animals “lucky” enough to possess an enclosure big enough to move around have the ability to act in a semi-natural way. Also the zoo is known for its large lake that is home to many species of birds and had a “fly-enclosure” for birds of prey and a few other species to stretch their wing to fly in. The other animals living in more pitiful conditions and the fact that, to me, it appears that some of the birds on the lake are pinioned means that this category could never be more than a “possibly”.

Good human-animal relationship with staff

Score: No   0 Points

Not only have there been three staff deaths at the teeth of tigers in the last 15 years but there are also reports that keepers are not around to prevent tourists throwing food, rubbish or stones at the animals. I do not believe that there is a good relationship between staff and the animals. I would love to hear from staff to change my opinion of this and provide some positive stories about this terrible zoo.

Absence of general fear/distress/apathy

Score: No   0 Points

In a zoo that appears to not be concerned whether or not their visitors harass and abuse the animals with anything to hand I cannot believe that the animals are in anything more than a constant state of distress. I have even read that the visitor abuse begins at 5am where older members of the public can enter the zoo whilst no members of the keeping staff are present (due to an “exercise card” issued to residents over 70 years of age for activities like Tai Chi in a smog free area). Some of these visitors are not there to utilise the large and impressive grounds to enrich their own lives, but are there to indulge there own desire to be close to animals or to do what they will with no concern of the animal residents that have no choice but to live there.   Even the people there to exercise have caused nuisance to the animals and have scared animals with loud music. In one case a zebra was startled and ran into an electric fence and died and in other the loud noise has caused pregnant animals to miscarry.

Ability to seek privacy/refuge from humans and other animals

Score: No   0 Points

See above as to reason why even when there are no staff or paying visitors in the park the animals are still harassed by other visitors. Also very few pictures of the enclosures show any form of refuge in the cages. One of the most appalling examples of lack of refuge are the numerous small fish tanks set out in the middle of the park. They are overcrowded, have no habitat, only glass, and have no shade. The fish are subjected to the heat of the summer and the small amount of water would hold a lot of heat making life unbearable for these fish.

I know many people forget fish when talking of animal rights, but, as a biologist, I can tell you that more and more evidence is being presented indicating the pain responses and emotional and feeling lives of fish.

Total Score for General Quality of Life:  3/20


Section Three: Interaction with the Public

This section focusses on the way the attraction allows the public to touch, play with, photograph, feed or otherwise interact with the animals. The focus is on whether or not the interactions are causing harm or stress/discomfort to the animals, and if they could be dangerous to the public.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The “Possibly” category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the animal’s welfare

Score: No   0 Points

Visitors feeding animals whatever they bring including lolly pops, sandwiches and meat to herbivores; throwing rocks, litter and other missiles at the animals; poking animals with Go-Pro cameras on sticks; banging on glass or rattling cages; loud music starting from 5am frightening animals, literally, to death or causing miscarriages; animal shows including elephants, tigers, bears and monkeys; “The Wild Animal Olympics” which included a bicycle race between a bear and a monkey that ended with the monkey being ripped in two by the bear and bear being hit with stick to get it to stop.

There is a laundry list of interactions that are nothing but harmful to the animals welfare at this zoo.

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the public’s welfare (any previous history of dangerous incidents)

Score: No   0 Points

Although there has not been, or at least nothing I have found, any incidents of members of the public being hurt the scope for an incident to occur is huge. There have been three tiger attacks on keepers in the last 15 years and when people are allowed such close interactions and the hand feeding of animals it seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. Eventually, I believe, that if visitors are continually left unattended and allowed to throw litter and feed animals as well as enter the zoo at 5am, three hours before staff arrive, then there will be an attack or a death of a member of the public.

The animals are not forced to interact with the public – they can refuse

Score: No   0 Points

Not only does this zoo have animal shows for the public, but animals have no ability to hide from the, seemingly, constant prodding and poking for pictures and all the litter and other missiles thrown at them. Also within their children “play” area they have very large tank literally jam packed with fish. These fish’s role is to die…the game is that children can hook these animals out with “rusty” hooks before the poor creatures are put in small bags (a la antiquated circuses and fairs) to be carried around by the kids with no formal care for them.

The public are not allowed to handle the animals and touch them

Score: No   0 Points

Humans constantly feed and harass the animals whenever they can. Whilst the zoo doesn’t appear to encourage this behaviour, they also do nothing to prevent it.

The interactions are supervised by staff and in an educational context

Score: No   0 Points

Far too many of the reviews and articles make mention of the lack of staff supervision for the animals and its effect on the animals wellbeing.

Total Score for Interaction with the Public:  0/10


Section Four: Conservation and Education

This section looks at whether or not the attraction has a focus on conservation – for example does it support animals in the wild through breeding programmes, research or donations; and education – are visitors informed about the animals so they are not simply seen as objects for human amusement/entertainment.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The “Possibly” category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Are some of the animals part of international breeding programs?

Score: Possibly  1 Point

The zoo certainly is part of a breeding program and very successfully rears a lot of animals, but whether these animals are part of release and reintroduction programs or done on an international level is unknown to me.

Is there evidence of them having released animals into the wild?

Score: Yes   2 Points

Yes, this zoo has, to my knowledge, definitely released the rare South China Tiger into the wild. I do not know if this is a one off or if they are part of more reintroduction programmes.

Do they actively undertake scientific research into conservation/behaviour of their animals?

Score: No   0 Points

There is no evidence that I could find to indicate that this zoo is involved in or undertakes any scientific research. I do hope that this zoo is putting some of the money they make back into conservation and scientific research.

Does the attraction give money to conservation or animal protection programmes?

Score: No   0 Points

As above, I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that they contribute to any conservation or animal protection programmes. An option to translate their website into international languages (English, Spanish, German or French) could make it easier for international visitors to find out more about them.

Does the attraction provide educational talks or written displays to inform visitors about the animals?

Score: No   0 Points

There are, seen in photos, some sparse and small written displays on the animals cages about the occupants, however I found no evidence of educational talks, organised school trips or outreach

Total Score for Conservation and Education:  3/10

Zoo Review Final Score for Shanghai Zoo, China:  7.5/50

Rating: 0-10: Unacceptable – the animal welfare at this attraction appears to be of a very low standard and a cause for great concern

Do you agree or disagree with this Zoo Review? Please let us know in the Comments below.
If you are from this attraction and would like to comment on this Zoo Review, we’ll be happy to publish your response. Please email or click


  1. This report was compiled on: 13th December 2014 by Tim Reynolds. Find out more about our Zoo Review campaign here.

2. Zoo Review Final Score is given out of 50 as a sum of the four sections, then a RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review rating is awarded based on this score:

0-10: Unacceptable – the animal welfare at this attraction appears to be of a very low standard and a cause for great concern
11-20: Poor – it appears that significant improvement is needed in order to meet welfare standards
21-30: Average – the attraction scores well in some areas but improvements would be welcome
31-40: Good – Public opinion and animal welfare measures suggest that the animals here are looked after well
41-50: Best in Class – the welfare of the animals appears to be of a very high standard

3. TripAdvisor and Google scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (20) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 2.5 as follows:

0-19% negative 2.5 points
20-39% 2 points
40-59% 1.5 points
60-79% 1 point
80-89% 0.5 point
90–100% 0 points

3. News and blog scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (10) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 5 as follows:

0-19% negative 5 points
20-39% 4 points
40-59% 3 points
60-79% 2 point
80-89% 1 point
90–100% 0 points

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