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Top Animal News of 2021

From the creation of national parks to leopards at large, here are some of the most significant headlines about animals in China this year

“Building a shared future for all life on Earth” was the theme of this year’s UN Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, in October. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the globe, scientists have been stressing the importance of biodiversity to prevent the spread of new infectious diseases.

News about animals, wildlife, and biodiversity have also made plenty of headlines in China this year, ranging from important landmarks in Chinese conservation policy to bizarre tales of escaped zoo leopards at large. Below are a few of our editors’ favorites, many of which we’ve previously covered in our print magazine and weekly Viral Week column:

China creates national parks and biodiversity fund

At the COP15 meeting on October 12, the Chinese government announced its plan to establish five national parks, covering a total area of 230,000 square kilometers and 30 percent of China’s key terrestrial wildlife species. Covering areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Hainan, Jiangxi, Fujian, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces, the parks protect the habitat of endangered and vulnerable species such as the black-crested gibbon, giant panda, Tibetan antelope, Siberian tiger, and snow leopard. At the same convention, China pledged 1.5 billion RMB (230 million USD) toward the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, which aims to protect biodiversity in developing countries.

Click here to read TWOC’s cover story on China’s national park and nature reserve project, which includes a visit to the Momoge National Nature Reserve in Jilin province and an investigation into what happens to locals who still need to live off the land.

Elephants march across Yunnan province

A herd of 16 wild Asian elephants left their habitat in Xishuangbanna in the southwest of Yunnan province in March of 2020 and headed north, with Chinese and international media avidly following their trek starting in June of this year. Crossing highways and feasting on grain from people’s homes and fields, they wandered as far north as the boundaries of the provincial capital, Kunming. Experts say the herd likely migrated due to habitat loss, and suggest they had gotten “lost” along the way. At the time of writing, the elephants have returned to the vicinity of their original habitat near the city of Pu’er.

Leopard (still) on the lam in Hangzhou

Three leopards ran away from the Hangzhou Safari Park on April 19, with park authorities later condemned for keeping quiet about the escape for a month to “avoid causing a panic.” By the first week of May, two of the leopards have been captured and returned to the park, but the third leopard seemingly remains at large to this day. Unsuccessful search-and-rescue operations for the third leopard continued in the countryside surrounding Hangzhou until mid-June, involving over 4,000 people, 450 drones, 85 hunting dogs, and over 1,000 pairs of night-vision goggles. On November 19, six park officials were sentenced to prison for 14 months to two years for covering up the leopards’ escape and endangering the public’s safety.

“Pet blind boxes” spark outrage

In June, a courier truck was discovered in Sichuan province carrying 160 crates of cats and dogs, many already sick or dead, as part of a deadly fad of live animal “mystery boxes.” Online vendors of these mystery boxes, also known as “blind boxes,” list prices as low as 9.9 RMB and lure buyers with the thrill of not knowing what animals they’ve ordered until they open the box. Mailing live animals violates the China Transport Act of 2005, and netizens and animal rights advocates, enraged, called for e-commerce platforms to crack down on live animal vendors and for China to draft an animal protection law.

Animals imitate tourists fighting

A brawl between two families at the Beijing Wildlife Park attracted an audience of animals. Later that day, the park claimed that animals started to mimic the fight among themselves, causing chaos and requiring staff to remind the animals that “fighting is bad, very bad.”

Wild boar attacks across China

A couple in Henan province were given prison sentences of a year or more each for capturing and killing eight wild boars, which allegedly ravaged their fields and destroyed their crops—over 30 mu (200 acres) of wheat and 70 mu (467 acres) of corn. Their arrest has sparked a public debate on whether farmers should be compensated or given more lenient punishment for killing wild boars. Some even suggest the government organize culls, as multiple incidents of boars destroying crops and even entering urban areas have been reported in Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, and other provinces.

Twice-abandoned dog finds new home

In 2018, the internet was gripped by the story of Deng Deng, a 5-year-old Shiba Inu who’d been abandoned by his owner at a pet training school in Beijing since 2014 and was being sold in a court-ordered auction to pay the bills (though the pet school said they’d be happy to continue taking care of Deng Deng if cost wasn’t an issue). Over 300,000 users had registered to view the online auction when the owner, surnamed Xiao, got back in contact with the pet school and stated he was abroad, but was willing to pay back the fees he owed and arrange for Deng Deng to be picked up within two months.

After settling his debts up to 2019, Mr. Xiao promptly disappeared again. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to reach Xiao, the court ordered another auction for Deng Deng. On November 4 of this year, a Mr. Shu won ownership of Deng Deng with a bid of 160,100 RMB, some of which will go toward paying the pet school’s fees. He soon arrived in Beijing to take Deng Deng to his new home in Shenzhen.

Red panda visits hotel room

A visitor at the Nantong Forest Safari Park in Jiangsu province got a surprise visit from a red panda in her room. Park management said there are no restrictions on where red pandas can roam in the park, but they discourage guests from interacting with wild animals unsupervised.

While many netizens were charmed by the video of the panda eating apple slices and apparently playing with pillows in the room, others noted that the animal actually showed fear and was trying to escape from the room. Nantong and other safari parks are advised to review their safety measures to protect both the wildlife and human visitors.

Giant panda escapes from enclosure at Beijing Zoo

Menglan, a 6-year-old panda resident of the Beijing Zoo, made a daring attempt to escape his enclosure by scaling its walls before zookeepers lured him back into his quarter with food. A few days later, a roof was put on the giant panda enclosure, though cameras have captured Menglan reaching for the roof with his paws, possibly planning for a future escape.

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Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese.

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