Imagine you’re a New York millennial living in a tiny, cramped studio apartment in Brooklyn. Now imagine that that apartment is in a mall and that mall is in China and you’re a polar bear and there’s blue neon lighting everywhere and people are taking pictures of you day and night. Now you can understand the plight of Pizza the polar bear.

Pizza is the world’s saddest polar bear, as well as a global symbol for the inhumane conditions some of the world’s most endangered animals are subjected to. He lives in the Guangzhou Grandview Aquarium, which is located inside a mall in southeastern China.

The plight of Pizza first came to public attention through the activism of the animal-rights organization Animals Asia. The organization’s petition to close the zoo and transfer the animals to better living conditions has amassed over 600,000 signatures since February. The campaign grew so large in part because of videos like this:

Putting aside the fact for a second that this particular zoo exhibit is located inside of a mall, Pizza’s improper enclosure is not unique. Zoos around the world have come under fire for failing to provide adequate resources for animals. The Giza Zoo in Egypt has become notorious for its cramped pens and cages. The Kiev Zoo in Ukraine came under fire after several high-profile deaths of prized animals. 

Zoos have also come under fire for trafficking in animals poached from the wild (like this one in Armenia), for taxidermying dead animals and putting them on display (as happened in the Gaza Zoo), and for neglecting to feed animals for an entire winter, mistakenly thinking that they hibernate (which actually happened at the Toledo Zoo in 2000).

Despite the backlash to zoos from animal groups like Animals Asia and PETA, zoos continue to bring in millions of visitors and billions of dollars around the world. A 2013 report by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimated that the economic impact of AZA-accredited zoos was over $17 billion in North America alone.

Zoos, like the one in Guangzhou that houses Pizza the polar bear, are able to expand even in the face of widespread public backlash across social media. The Guangzhou Grandview Aquarium is slated to add giant pandas to its exhibit, among other species, by 2017.

Public opinion can, at times, lead to the closure of unhealthy or unsafe zoos. A zoo in Des Moines, Iowa — also located inside a shopping mall — closed after a petition gathered more than 75,000 signatures.

Upon its being shut down, the owner of the zoo, Ron DeArmond, complained, in what might be the most incredible quote to ever reach the Internet: "Animal rights people have got this idea that it's 'Kumbaya' out there in the wild. It's violent. It's survival of the fittest. It's like Obamacare in here. They get care and feeding and don't have to do anything for it."

Meanwhile, in China, despite claims by the Guangzhou Aquarium that it has improved its conditions, Pizza will continue to suffer alone in the spotlight of a million selfies.


Defend the Planet

Pizza, the Saddest Polar Bear Ever, Lives in a Mall in China

By Phineas Rueckert