Chinese Zoo Turns To Animal ‘Adoption’ to Stay Afloat

To cope with low attendance rates due to China’s zero-Covid policy, Hongshan Forest Zoo is allowing animal lovers to virtually ‘adopt’ 39 varieties of animals, from wolves to otters

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terra wang
5:28 PM HKT, Thu November 17, 2022 1 mins read

China’s zero-Covid policy has affected countless individuals and businesses, including zoos. To cope with low attendance rates and to generate revenue via social media, the Hongshan Forest Zoo in Nanjing, East China’s Jiangsu province, has rolled out digital programs that encompass livestream sessions and an animal ‘adoption’ program.

Don’t raise your eyebrows just yet: Contrary to what it sounds like, ‘adopters’ aren’t taking animals home, but simply covering the cost of daily necessities like food, healthcare, and more.

hongshan forest zoo

A ring-tailed lemur at the Hongshan Forest Zoo enjoying some watermelon

First launched in 2001, Hongshan Forest Zoo’s adoption program was reintroduced online last year to mitigate its cash flow problems. The program has recently made waves on the Chinese internet again, as the zoo went into yet another round of lockdown.

According to the zoo’s website, the annual fee to adopt an animal is up to 2,000 RMB (about 300 USD) per individual. 39 varieties of animals, such as pandas, tigers, wolves, koalas, and otters, are up for adoption. So far, 150 animals have been vouched for, and the zoo has raised 2.63 million RMB (370,000 USD) through livestreaming.

Screenshots of Hongshan’s tigers and leopards open for adoption with brief introduction.

Tigers at Hongshan Forest Zoo that are available for adoption

Although adopters aren’t able to physically take care of their favored animals, they receive daily reports documenting their pets’ daily lives, and receive certificates, souvenirs, and invitations to experience a day in the life of a zookeeper.

hongshan forest zoo

“What’s that over the window? I have to check it out,” reads part of the zoo’s daily report for an orangutan. Image via Weibo

Reportedly China’s best zoo, Hongshan Forest Zoo was established in 1954, and is now home to about 3,000 animals of 260 species. It was the first zoo in China to abolish animal performances, and is allegedly the only independent public zoo in the country.

In modern society, zoos play a vital role in wildlife conservation, public education, and scientific research. After China banned animal performances in 2011, many (but not all, sadly) zoos have dropped the practice, and mostly rely on tickets sales for income, including Hongshan Forest Zoo.

hongshan zoo

A staff member of Hongshan Forest Zoo releasing rescued birds back into the wild

Hongshan Forest Zoo has been experimenting with new sources of revenue, such as hosting livestream sessions of its animals and selling creative merchandise, but the pandemic has greatly disrupted its operations. Due to unpredictable lockdowns and travel restrictions, the zoo lost more than 30 million RMB (4.2 million USD) in 2020, stated recent data.

A few weeks ago, the zoo publicly announced that it was in a dire situation, and encouraged more animal lovers to participate in its adoption program. Many netizens have shown their support by proudly sharing their certificates from the zoo and daily reports of the animals. At the time of writing, the hashtag about the animal adoption program has garnered over 75 million views on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

hongshan forest zoo

Hornbills enjoying a special autumn meal of fruit and osmanthus flowers

“I adopted a leopard named Yue Yue at Hongshan, and hopefully I can renew my (adoption) certificate in the upcoming years. I also hope this program can help encourage more people to care about wildlife protection, rather than simply checking them online or visiting them in the zoo,” said a Weibo user.

All images via Hongshan Forest Zoo unless otherwise stated

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