A themed hotel built around a polar bear enclosure was opened in northeast China on Friday, against wide condemnation from animal rights groups.
Billed as a “world’s first” the Harbin Polar Bear Hotel provides guests with panoramic views of captive bears, in a central courtyard. 21 guest rooms allow visitors to check in to polar-themed rooms with the promise of round-the-clock viewing.
“Whether you’re eating, playing or sleeping, polar bears will keep you company,” the company’s Weibo account.
However many animal lovers didn’t like what they saw. Artificial snow and tiny pools of water are a poor substitute for the animals’ natural habitat.
“A panoramic prison for polar bears… haven’t we learned anything about animal cruelty?” recorded one complaint on Chinese social media.
In the wild, Alaskan researchers have recorded the animals travelling up to 350km in long-distance swims. The world’s largest land predator by mass, polar bears cover vast distances to hunt. Distances that seemed lacking in press photos supplied to Chinese state media.
A spokesperson for Harbin Polarland, told Reuters that the viewing area is only part of the bears’ total enclosure, and there will be an opportunity for the bears to go outside when temperature and air quality allow.
Reuters also reported that the hotel was fully booked during the trial period, with rooms costing 1,888 to 2,288 yuan ($400 to $490) a night.
However animal rights group PETA say the hotel is profiting “from animals’ misery”.
“Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums
– and certainly not in hotels,” Jason Baker of animal rights group PETA, told Reuters. “Polar bears are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life.”
On the Chinese Siberian border Harbin has established itself as a winter wonderland attraction for tourists. The Ice Carving festival has become an annual event. However, there are no wild polar bears in China. Instead many of the attractions and exotic animals are imported to the area.
The hotel is part of the Harbin Polar Land business, which holds performances from beluga whales. This is another practice which has been outlawed in other parts of the world, with the “whale jails” seen as cruel and restrictive.
“Gaps in China’s wildlife protection law allows businesses to exploit animals without any concern for their welfare,” a spokesman for China Animal Protection Network, told AFP.
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