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Photos Emerge Of 'Starving' Bear Trapped In Chinese Zoo

The zoo claims he's just "growing too quickly."

The bear is thin — painfully thin. His bones jut out through his mangy fur, and his face is long and gaunt.

Last week, photographs of this emaciated brown bear emerged on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site, after a member of the public visited a zoo at Xinxiang People’s Park in the Henan province of Central China, where the bear currently resides.

“It’s skin and bones, looks so sad,” the visitor wrote on Weibo, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. “Was it abused? Or hungry? Should we be showing kids bears like this? Is there anyone who can save them?”

The photos went viral, sparking international outrage amongst animal lovers. In response, the zoo made a post on its official Weibo account, arguing that the bear was simply growing and shedding fur.

“The brown bear is just over 1 year old — it is going through a phase when its skeleton is growing rapidly, it won’t retain fat like fully-grown bears do,” the zoo said, according to Hong Kong Free Press. “Besides, it is shedding season — the bears will shed their thick fur to help them get through the hot summer, therefore they will look thin.”

The zoo also said that the bear’s snout was extra long, and that the animal did receive regular medical checkups.

However, Peter Li, China policy specialist for Humane Society International (HSI), told The Dodo that he's familiar with this zoo, and that the facility has “long been known for its shocking conditions and poor physical health of the animals.”

“The bear is suffering from malnutrition,” Li said. “It could also be suffering from a physical condition that calls for the immediate attention of vets.”

While it is not clear how this particular zoo feeds its animals, Li noted that Chinese zoos often encourage visitors to feed the animals themselves. If this is happening, it could be negatively affecting the bear’s health.

“This is a huge issue,” Li said. “Visitors bring their own food, [which] may be harmful to animals. Or they feed them anything in hand, such as cigarette butts. There were cases in China [where] visitors dump concentrated acid [onto] zoo animals. The bear could be a victim of this feeding activity encouraged or allowed by the zoo.”

Besides the fact that the bear is skinny, he doesn’t live in the greatest environment. Based on the photographs, it looks like he lives inside a concrete and rock enclosure with only a small pool of water to drink from. Food wrappers and other trash litter the ground, which Li believes could be evidence that visitors feed the animals.

Xinxiang People’s Park could not be reached for comment.

While it’s not clear what will happen to the bear, Li believes the facility should be shut down, and that the bear should get urgent medical care and moved to a reputable sanctuary.

“This zoo should be closed once and for all,” Li said. “The zoo staff and management are not qualified. This bear should be confiscated by the state forestry bureau, sent to an animal hospital in the provincial capital and be accommodated in Animals Asia Foundation's Chengdu Bear Rescue Center.”

To help animals like the emaciated bear, you can make a donation to HSI or Animals Asia, which work to help animals kept in zoos and private homes across Asia.