Five zoos that tried to pass off one animal as another – and failed terribly
Zoos are home to exotic animals from around the world, but some sneaky venues have tried to get creative with the animals they had available to them. Here’s a list of the worst zoo dupes from the past decade
Last month, a zoo in Egypt was accused of passing off a donkey as a zebra in one of the least convincing paint jobs ever seen. The zoo in Cairo’s International Garden Municipal Park was criticised by guests on social media after painting a donkey black and white to look like its African cousin.
After local media investigated, zoo boss Mohamed Sultan denied that his zebra was fake, despite pictures showing the paint melting off the poor donkey’s face.
This isn’t the first time that a zoo has tried to sneakily pass off one animal as another species for various reasons.
1. Painted puppy pandemonium
Real pandas must have become so rare that, in 2014, one Italian circus troupe resorted to painting chow chow dogs to make them look like the black and white bamboo eaters. Audience members were encouraged to pay to have photos with the “pandas”, until investigative rangers from Italy’s forestry corps unveiled the ruse.
They found that the white puppies, imported from Hungary, had false pet passports and were falsely alleged to be six months old, when in actual fact, they were younger. A circus spokesman claimed that misleading guests with fake pandas was never their intention and it should have been “obvious” they were dogs.
2. A dog and phoney show
Visitors to Dezhou Zoo in China’s Shandong province were left howling, in 2016, when word got out that a husky was being kept as part of the attraction’s wolf exhibit. Few guests were fooled by the animal, which was larger and fluffier than its cohabitants in the enclosure. Zoo management released a statement admitting that the animal, which was filmed walking with a limp, was in fact a dog. They said it had been introduced “to create more fun for tourists” and that the dog and wolves got along well.
3. A mysterious mane attraction
Perhaps the most notorious example of zoo animal fraud occurred in 2013, when Park Zoo in central China attempted to fool guests into believing that a fluffy, orange dog was an “African lion”, as the label on its cage read. The zoo tried to cover up the scandal by saying the real lion had been removed for breeding and the Tibetan mastiff was an employee’s pet that had been placed in the enclosure out of “safety concerns”.
But visitors were sceptical, largely because other animals were also reportedly mislabelled, including a white fox in a leopard’s den and another dog being passed off as a wolf.
4. Not a black-and-white situation
Due to Israel’s restrictions on importing animals into the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip, in 2009 the Marah Land Zoo decided to cover a pair of donkeys in black dye and white stripes to make the most of the animals they could find. Zoo director Mahmoud Barghout claimed getting a real zebra would have cost US$40,000, so instead he got crafty with hair dye and masking tape.
The world mocked Marah Land, but in an op-ed in The Guardian, Barghout tried to explain the deception by revealing that many of their other animals, including two tigers, monkeys, a lion and camels, had died during the war, and said the aim of the zoo was “to provide a place for children where they could enjoy themselves and get away from the harsh realities here. They are so tired and traumatised from the war.”
5. Something fishy in China
In a true insult to animal-lovers’ intelligence, an attraction in China’s southern Yulin city lazily filled its penguin enclosure with cartoonlike inflatable dupes in 2017. Guishan Zoo had advertised itself as a place where guests could witness rare animals and learn about wildlife – with penguins playing a central role in the newly opened facility’s marketing.
Instead, employees filled a concrete pool with plastic imitations (minus water) – several of which were photographed deflated. To add insult to injury, the rest of the zoo was populated by turtles, geese and roosters – common animals that are a far cry from the ostriches and peacocks originally promised.
Absurdly, this wasn’t the first time a Chinese zoo had tried to hoodwink the public with blow-up Antarctic birds: the same stunt was pulled earlier that year in Nantong, in eastern Jiangsu province.
Chinese web users seized upon the opportunity to make fun of the blundering Yulin zoo: “You forgot the other animals like mosquitoes, ants, flies, and mice that are displayed at the zoo,” one Weibo user commented. The zoo has since closed.