A zoo in eastern China has denied allegations that at least one of its bears might actually be a human in costume. Images of one of the animals standing upright in its enclosure sparked speculation online.
Footage of the Malayan sun bear standing on its hind legs led to lively discussions on Chinese internet over the weekend. However, the zoo in the eastern province of Zhejiang insists the figure really is that of a rather small bear that is different to more well-known ones.
A video of a bear standing in Hangzhou, China, swept through social media with conspiracy theories it was a human in a suit. The zoo tried to clear things up by releasing a statement in the bear’s voice. “I am a Malayan sun bear!” https://t.co/pJ36hDWhhM pic.twitter.com/1pJL6zwM0S
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“Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much,” Hangzhou Zoo wrote on its official social media account on Sunday from the perspective of the bear, named Angela, in the video.
“Previously, some tourists thought that I was too tiny to be a bear,” the message read. “I have to emphasize again: I am a Malayan sun bear! Not a black bear! Not a dog! A sun bear!”
The video of the bear standing and interacting with tourists was widely circulated online after a fifteen-second clip was posted on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, on July 27th.
Trending topics on the subject attracted millions of views on the platform as people questioned whether the bear was a human in disguise, given its behavior as well as the visible folds of fur on its body that resemble humans wearing ill-fitting clothing.
The animal in the zoo is “a sun bear for sure”
However, an expert told NBC News that such speculation was unfounded.
The animal in the video is “a sun bear for sure,” said Wong Siew Te, a wildlife biologist and the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. He has been researching the animal for about twenty-five years.
“Sun bears [can] be very human-like,” he said. “They stand like humans and walk like humans.” He also added that sun bear mothers can carry babies with their hands and walk on their hind legs.
Sun bears are the smallest bears, standing at most 1.3 meters (51 inches) tall, while other species can stand at most 2.8 meters (110 inches) tall on their hind legs, according to the zoo.
The number of sun bears has decreased by over thirty percent in the past three decades alone, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They are also listed as vulnerable animals on the red list created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Sun bears are the least known bears in the world,” Wong said. “I believe the incident could call people’s attention on how sun bears may look like humans and hopefully could [let people know] that they are endangered species because of human activities,” he added, citing large-scale deforestation and hunting as the primary causes of their slow disappearance over time.