John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Who knew feeding deer plastic waste would hurt them?
Plastic trash is not something typically found in the diet of herbivores. Yet that hasn’t stopped visitors at the Shanghai Zoo from feeding it to animals—leading, most recently, to the deaths of three fallow deer. Here are the gory details from Shanghai Daily:
The first of the animals died on May 9, followed by a second last Wednesday and a third the day after, zoo official Pan Xiuwen told Shanghai Daily yesterday.
“When we carried out the autopsies we found more than 6 kilograms of foreign matter in each of the deer’s stomachs. They would have been in a lot of pain in their final days,” she said.
“Herbivores can’t tell the difference between food and plastic bags, especially if the bags have food inside,” Gui Jianfeng, the zoo’s vet was quoted as saying in a report by Xinmin Evening News.
For the metrically disinclined, six kilograms is more than 13 pounds. That’s a lot of litter for one animal to digest—basically a bowling ball of garbage festering in the gut.
The dead deer are a depressing, but not unsurprising, milestone in zoo history. Officials have long tried to restrain the park’s raucous tourists, who feed the creatures with containers they bring in and pelt others with plastic bottles to get them to move. This behavior has turned many cages into mini-landfills from which the animals scavenge. Since 2006, 14 herbivores and three birds have perished from consuming “the wrong things,” according to Shanghai Daily.
It’s unclear if that toll includes a macaque that passed in 2007 with an “extremely distended stomach” after visitors overfed it during a festive holiday. It certainly doesn’t include Hai Bin, a giraffe that died in 1993 from eating plastic bags. (The zoo had it stuffed and mounted as a reminder to stop feeding the animals.)
The boorish activity has earned the zoo one of the most catastrophic pages on TripAdvisor. “The crocodile enclosure had coins and litter in the water, with one crocodile laying on a coke bottle and another covered in tissue paper,” writes one person. “I watched a lady pour her drink on an alligator….” notes another. “I watched a porcupine eat a plastic cup.” A third laments: “If you are an animal lover this place will leave you in tears, knowing there is nothing you can do about it.”
Still want to visit, but don’t have the means for a vacation? Don’t worry, you can experience everything the zoo has to offer from these videos. Tourists bombard some lions with bottles:
Monkeys chew trash: