A zoo's attempt to pass off fluffy dogs as "African lions" and rats as "snakes" has infuriated the zoo's visitors, according to the Henan provincial newspaper Dongfang Jinbao.
In the zoo in Luohe in Henan , a cage marked "African lions" actually contained a Tibetan mastiff, a breed of domestic dog with fluffy brown fur around its face, according to photographs published by mainland media.
A zoo administrator tried desperately to explain. "The wolves are there," he told an Oriental Daily reporter.
"But the wolf is somewhere else in the pen and the dog is a pet. The African lions will be back. They went to another zoo to breed."
But the zoo had no explanation for abnormalities such as "fox-like creatures" in the leopard's pen.
Visitors were outraged. Sharon Liu, who had taken her six-year-old son to the zoo, was alarmed to hear barking coming from inside the lion's cage.
"To use a dog to impersonate a lion is definitely an insult to tourists," she said.
The practice of dyeing pets' fur to make them look like other animals, such as painting dogs black and white to make them look like pandas, has been a trend reported on the mainland before. But the bogus animals in the Luohe zoo drew denunciations across the internet yesterday. A blogger joked that this publicity might actually bring more visitors to the zoo.
"People would want to know what they could think of next. Earthworms as pythons? … An eggplant disguised as a sea cucumber?"
On Tuesday, Yu Hua, head of the People's Park where the zoo is located said private contractors ran the zoo. In 2010, the government stopped giving contracts to private operators for animal parks and zoos, but the contract for the Luohe zoo has not expired yet. Yu said the signs would be "promptly corrected".