A zoo in eastern China has been forced to deny suggestions that some of its bears might actually be humans in costume, after images of one of the animals standing up in its enclosure sparked speculation online.
It is not uncommon for bears to stand on their hind legs for a better view of their surroundings. But when pictures emerged of one of Hangzhou Zoo’s sun bears – a type of bear that is found in southeast Asia – standing at the edge of its enclosure with its fur sagging above its legs, there were accusations that it might actually be a zoo employee in disguise.
“Some people think I stand like a person,” said a post from Hangzhou Zoo on its social media account, written from point of view of Angela, a Malaysian sun bear. “It seems you don’t understand me very well.”
The sun bears are smaller than other bears, and look different, but are the real thing, the zoo said in the post. “When it comes to bears, the first thing that comes to mind is a huge figure and amazing power… But not all bears are behemoths and danger personified,” it added.
“Because of the way they stand, some people online question whether they are ‘humans in disguise’,” the newspaper Hangzhou Daily wrote. One social media user commented on a video of the bear that it “looks like it’s wearing a leather jacket”. Others suggested that the animal’s posture was “more upright” than your average person.
Sun bears are the size of large dogs, standing at most 1.3 metres (just above 4ft) tall on their hind legs, compared with grizzlies and other species, which can be up to 2.8 metres (9ft) tall, according to the zoo.
In an audio recording circulating on WeChat, a spokesperson for the zoo said the animal was real and that a state-run facility would never attempt such a deception. The spokesperson also noted that, as temperatures could reach 40C (104F) in the summer, a human in a bear suit “would not last more than a few minutes before collapsing”.
An employee at the zoo said visits were being arranged for journalists to allow them to see the sun bears up close.
Other Chinese zoos have been accused of trying to pass off dogs dyed to look like wolves or African cats, and donkeys painted to look like zebras.
Associated Press contributed to this report