A Chinese zoo stands accused of employing a rather curious tactic to captivate its visitors: the alleged painting of dogs in hues of black and white to mimic the appearance of pandas.

Reports circulating on social media unveiled Taizhou Zoo’s latest attraction, purportedly showcasing “panda dogs” on the 1st of May. Eager visitors were charged 20 yuan (£2.22) for the privilege of witnessing this novelty. However, upon arriving at the zoo nestled in Jiangsu province, attendees were met not by the beloved monochrome bears, but rather by chow chow dogs, a breed renowned for its abundant double coat, indigenous to northern China, that had been subjected to a transformation through dyeing to emulate the iconic panda markings.

As highlighted by the Chinese state media outlet The Global Times, legal experts have voiced concerns, asserting that patrons are likely to experience feelings of disillusionment and deception upon unearthing the true nature of the exhibit.

Yet, a spokesperson for the zoo vehemently refuted allegations of deceitful advertising, asserting to the aforementioned outlet on Monday, “This is simply a novel presentation we offer to our visitors. We are not imposing an additional fee. The terminology referencing chow chow dogs is accurate and precisely denotes their identity, thus we are not misleading our esteemed guests.”

Further defending the panda exhibit, a spokesperson, speaking to Per Jam Press, drew parallels with the common practice of human hair dyeing, suggesting that natural dyes could be safely used on dogs boasting lengthy fur. Moreover, they clarified the absence of genuine panda bears within the zoo’s confines, framing the endeavour as a creative response to this reality.

This incident is not an isolated one within the realm of Chinese zoological establishments. In 2023, Hangzhou Zoo found itself embroiled in a similar controversy, staunchly refuting assertions that some of its bears were in fact individuals clad in elaborate costumes. Addressing these claims, a zoo staff member remarked via WeChat, “Given our zoo’s governmental oversight, such occurrences are simply implausible. With temperatures soaring to nearly 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, donning a fur suit would be utterly untenable, rendering the notion untenable.”

Moreover, Chinese zoos have previously come under fire for attempting to pass off dogs, their fur dyed and sculpted, as wolves or African felines. In 2010, a park in Zhengzhou, situated in Henan province, reportedly procured four dyed chow chows and a golden retriever, the latter adorned to resemble a tiger, from a Sichuan pet market in a bid to entice visitors, as relayed by local media outlets cited by Reuters. Similarly, in 2018, an Egyptian zoo refuted claims of painting donkeys to resemble zebras.

Would you be fooled?

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