You can't just stroll into the park. You have to take one of its special "zoo buses"...and pay for it. The initial ride is fairly benign, but after passing through a security checkpoint, you can literally see lions, tiger and bears swirling around the bus you are riding in. These animals spend their lives here at the park and have grown accustomed to vehicles passing through their enclosures—they know you're coming long before you do. As your fellow passengers pull out their phones and snap pictures, you notice a steel cage riveted to the floor of the bus. It’s filled with chickens. For 40 yuan ($6.30) you can buy one of these chickens and toss it to the animals outside. It’s not an option for the squeamish, of course, but an option nonetheless.
The Badaling Wildlife Park outside of Beijing is known for giving its guests an up-close-and-personal experience with exotic animals. If you've got the funds, the park staff can also arrange for live chickens, sheep, even cows to be served to those animals for your viewing pleasure. Critics call this practice cruel and inhumane, but live animal feedings are fairly common at zoos and wildlife parks throughout China.
If tourists aren't careful, they can find themselves on the menu as well. Two years ago, a woman was attacked when, after an argument with her husband, she decided to exit the car that she, her husband, and her mother were riding in and make the rest of the trip on foot. Surveillance videos show her being dragged away by a Siberian tiger, as her husband and mother look on in horror. The woman’s mother eventually exited the vehicle and jumped on the tiger, saving her daughter's life at the cost of her own. The park paid out a settlement of 1.2 million yuan ($299,917.52) following the incident. Last year, a male patron was bitten by a bear as he fed the animal through the driver's side window of his car. Despite these and other incidents, the park is still as popular as ever and continues to admit new patrons looking for an adventure.
A cardinal rule when traveling is to expect differences from one's country of origin. Not everyone will have the same beliefs and values as those of the traveler. The Badaling Wildlife Park is a prime example of this. While controversial, none of the activities that occur in the park are illegal in China. Nor do they pose an immediate threat to the population of any particular animal. Respecting things that we do not necessarily support is a vital part of the international, intercultural education that world travel gives us, and though the temptation may be great at times, we must weigh the validity of imposing our values in countries that we are admitted to as guests. For now, the park hovers in its own moral space. It cannot be labeled definitely as “right” or “wrong.” It simply is.
JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself.