‘You don’t understand’: Zoo denies its bears are ‘humans in disguise’ after viral photo

The physical appearance of a sun bear at a Chinese zoo has sparked rumours.

The physical appearance of a sun bear at a Chinese zoo has sparked rumours. Photo: Twitter/@MothershipSG

A Chinese zoo has denied accusations that its sun bears are humans dressed in costumes, after footage of a bear with a lean physique and standing on two legs went viral online.

But the denial came in the form of a bizarre statement written from the perspective of Angela, one of Hangzhou Zoo’s sun bears and the unwitting star of the viral footage.

“Some people think I stand like a person. It seems you don’t understand me very well,” the statement from the zoo in eastern China read on Tuesday (AEST).

“When it comes to bears, the first thing that comes to mind is a huge figure and astonishing power … But not all bears are behemoths and danger personified.”

In an audio recording circulating on WeChat, a zoo spokesperson said that anyone wearing a bear costume would not be able to stand the summer heat, and would be “lying down within minutes”.

Zookeepers also noted that sun bears, which are native to tropical rainforest regions of South-East Asia, are smaller and look different to other bears.

Visits are reportedly being arranged for the media to see Hangzhou Zoo’s bears to put the allegations to rest once and for all.

The idea of humans dressed as zoo animals is not without precedent in China.

In 2019, humans wearing gorilla costumes were filmed in the primates’ enclosure at Yancheng Wild Animal World in Changzhou – that zoo later said the ‘human gorillas’ were intended to entertain tourists on April Fool’s Day.

The concept of humans pretending to be zoo animals has also made its way into pop culture, with the 2020 Korean film Secret Zoo depicting the scenario.

Bear-y suspicious

In the footage that quickly spread online, commentators noted the stance of the standing bear, as well as the folds of skin that seemed similar to an ill-fitting costume.

Social media users have continued to poke fun at the situation, either with accusations the bear is really a human in a costume, or by pointing out that sun bears are generally odd-looking creatures.

“Has nobody seen a sun bear [sic] before? They are the weirdest animals alive,” one person posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“I think a human in a bear costume would genuinely look more normal than an actual sun bear [sic],” another person write.

Sun bears, which are classified as a vulnerable species, are the smallest bear in the world and grow to about half the size of an American black bear.

Weighing up to 65 kilograms and reaching as tall as 120 centimetres, they have tongues that can be 25 centimetres long. The tree-climbing bears are also generally nocturnal and shy.

Wild populations of sun bears have fallen due to habitat loss and hunting.

sun bear

Sun bears can look a bit goofy compared to the more common species of bear. Photo: Getty

It’s not the first time sun bears in zoos have made headlines; in 2017, footage of them at Bandung Zoo in the Indonesian province of West Java went viral for their thin appearance and begging for food from visitors.

But rather than spark rumours of humans masquerading as animals, the zoo came under fire for neglecting its animals.

Topics: Animals
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