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Chinese zoo under fire after dyeing dogs to resemble pandas

Two “panda dogs” in a new exhibit are actually Chow Chows dyed black and white, state media reported, citing zoo officials.
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HONG KONG — A zoo in China has been accused of trying to deceive visitors with a pair of dogs dyed black and white to look like panda bears.

Videos circulating on Chinese social media show the two “panda dogs” in an exhibit at Taizhou Zoo in the eastern province of Jiangsu that opened on May 1. Though the animals are patterned to look like pandas, which are endemic to China and an international symbol of the country, their wagging tails give them away.

Zoo officials told Chinese state media that they were Chow Chows — a fluffy dog breed originally from northern China — painted black and white to resemble giant pandas, adding that they had clearly advertised them as “panda dogs” and did not make any false claims.

The dogs are still at the zoo, officials told NBC News by phone on Friday, where the number of people coming to see them remained “at a normal level.”

The zoo, which does not have real pandas, was nonetheless criticized by state media and others for misleading visitors and mistreating the dogs.

“It is not funny at all to dye Chow Chow dogs to attract tourists,” one commenter wrote on the social media platform Weibo. “Their fragile skin and naturally thick coats make them susceptible to skin diseases.”

Zoo officials defended the exhibit, saying the dogs had not been harmed.

“Normal people dye their hair,” a spokesperson told Qilu Evening News. “Dogs can dye their hair, too. It’s the same as hair.”

This is not the first time that “panda dogs” have set off social media discussion in China.

In 2019, a dog cafe in the southwestern province of Sichuan raised animal rights concerns with its six Chow Chows that were also dyed to look like the bears.

In 2020, in the same province, a “panda” being walked by a woman in a video that went viral was revealed to be a dyed Chow Chow.

Other zoos in China have also been accused of having fake animals, often dogs they tried to present as wolves or African cats.

Last July, a zoo in the eastern province of Zhejiang denied that its Malayan sun bears were human beings in disguise after a video of one standing like a person went viral. Experts debunked the claim and the zoo said there was no way a person in a fur suit would be able to withstand such high summer temperatures.