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Guangzhou Zoo, China Report

February 20-24, 2014  


The purpose of the visit was to introduce young chimpanzees to an adolescent female as a surrogate parent and to give recommendations regarding basic husbandry routine and enrichment for all species.


Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ?) Subspecies unknown.

Suggestions: Subspecies needs to be determined by DNA testing.

From left to right: Huahua (female, 6 years old) and Suisui (female, 6 years old)

From left to right: Obama (male, 4 years old) and Baby girl (female, 4 years old)

From left to right: Yangyang (male, 4 years old) and Yingya (female, 10 years old)


There was also another adult female chimpanzee, Manli, housed by herself. This chimpanzee was not introduced to the group because she was going to be transferred to another zoo within a few days for breeding.

Manli (female, 19 years old)


Chimpanzee Introduction

The introduction went fast and smoothly. Since the chimpanzees were so young, they were transported from one cage to another by their keepers.

After adding substrate, scattered food and browse to all cages, introduction commenced when the animals were finished foraging and playing. Animals were introduced by a buddy system, having familiar animals present for support and protection.




Chimpanzee Exhibits

The chimpanzee exhibit was satisfactory in size with natural soil and plenty of climbing structures. Their night house was large enough, made of concrete and metal. The animals are locked inside during the winter.

Suggestions: To further improve quality, some permanent furniture, especially sleeping nests need to be installed as high as possible in both on- and off-exhibit areas. Please review example pictures below.


Metal basket, hammock and platform for sleeping furniture both inside and outside

The night houses could utilize three dimensions by adding large tree trunks, ropes, fire hoses, hammocks, wooden shelves, etc. to increase space and allow opportunities for exercise, exploration and manipulation.

Boomer ball products are not so easy to come by in China, but recycled household products (cereal boxes, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, barrels, plastic cups, old plush toys, towels, clothing, tires, etc.) can be easily incorporated as enrichment/toys.

It is preferable to add more windows and/or skylights to increase light. It would also be advantageous to build double sliding doors (one being solid and the other one built from bars and mesh) so that the night houses and the exhibit could be connected with a “Round Robin” system, allowing animals to move about in circular ways and not just a linear fashion. This system could be used for all other species as well and would help with introductions or with shifting animals more easily and quickly.

Winter Care

Chimpanzees can be allowed outside for limited time during the winter; however, they need to have access to inside heat and provided with extra blankets. Some institutions keep to a temperature guideline and will only let their chimpanzees out if the temperature reaches 10-13 C, while others, such as Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, USA, allow the chimpanzees to make their own decision. It is important to remember to provide chimpanzees the opportunity to seek warmth if allowed outdoor access during cold weather, and there might be a temperature so low that outdoor access is inappropriate. The only time they don't allow them outside is when heavy, wet snow reduces the voltage on their electric fence.

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csnw chimpanzee snow

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Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary, U.K.              Saint Louis Zoo, USA  

General Propositions:

Night Houses, Off-exhibit Areas and Correct Substrate Use

Many animals (especially carnivores and elephants) were surrounded by green vegetation, but kept on sterile surfaces with reduced chance for exploratory behaviours. This practice likely originates out of good intent to keep a clean environment for the animals, as it appears to be a cultural inheritance that if an exhibit is not hosed frequently, then the animals are not being well cared for. However, this practice creates poor conditions for the animals.



Suggestions: Begin keeping animals off of unyielding surfaces (brick, concrete, etc.). The use of appropriate substrate (inside- paper products, hay or straw, etc.; outside- nonflammable materials such as grass, sand, soil, mulch, fresh browse, etc.) will make a significant difference not only in the animals’ mental and physical health, but also in the improvement of the exhibit aesthetics. Using substrate will reduce cleaning time and water consumption, as well. Soaking, scrubbing and hosing dry waste takes much longer than spot cleaning substrate due to the substrate’s ability to absorb urine and cover fecal matter. Reducing hosing and partially covering surface with substrate will overcome any of these obstacles and provide animals with a soft surface.


The zoo has a large amount of edible vegetation available on grounds that can provide fresh, leafy branches (browse).


Suggestions: Browse should be provided at least every 2-3 days, but if possible, every day for animals that need it. The zoo would benefit by planting edible trees, bushes and even crops inside and outside of exhibits and along visitor pathways. The bushes can provide future browsing materials for growing collection demands. Whether cut by staff or available by natural damage, fallen vegetation of approved browse plants can be used rather than wasted.

Mixed Species Exhibits

Suggestions: Mixed species exhibits can be created in order to free up space and create a more esthetic, complex exhibit. This will also immediately resolve some of the solitary (otherwise social) species problems until they are paired up with their conspecific. Please review some photos of Phoenix Zoo mixed exhibits:


Extending Foraging Time

Suggestions: All animals need to be fed in a way that extends their foraging time and encourages appropriate, species-specific behaviors. If no one can be appointed for this position, staff can be scheduled to cut browse and chop diet on a rotation basis.


Keepers were often observed smoking, some of them inside the night house right next to the animals.


Suggestions: The zoo should change its smoking policy. The first step can be creating designated smoking areas (tables, chairs, ashtrays, garbage cans) for visitors, directing them to these areas to smoke. Keepers should no longer smoke in front of the visitors at all and should absolutely not smoke inside the animals' night houses and/or next to the animals. Keepers also need to have designated smoking areas behind the scenes, out of the visitors’ view.

Animal Performances

Removing animals from conspecifics and hand-rearing them for performances compromises welfare, causes a lack of social behaviors, aggression, depression, health problems and more. Performances cause suffering to thousands of animals and “provide a message that it is okay to use/abuse animals for entertainment and demonstrates that the animals can only be “controlled” by pain and fear” (Neale 2013).

The removal of teeth and physical abuse that animals are subjected to during circus-type performances are well-known practices around the world and result in a higher percentage of inactivity and/or increased abnormal behaviour; i.e. self-injury and stereotypies. The lack of appropriate social interaction, reduction in time spent foraging and the restricted freedom to perform many highly motivated behaviours represent stressors for circus animals. Stress can have short-term as well as chronic long-term negative behavioural and physiological effects. Over time this can induce poor welfare by compromising health, altering brain function and lowering life expectancy.


In October 2011, Ministry of Rural and Urban Housing Development issued a directive banning animal performances in traditional zoos. Nanjing, Kunming, Shanghai, Chongqing, Zhengzhou, Jinan and Chengdu have all closed down their animal performances (Neale 2013).

Suggestions: Ending the circus-style animal performances and using current performing animals as ambassadors for their wild counterparts to promote species conservation and protection, as well as improving their housing circumstances, will demonstrate a public commitment to protecting the natural environment, protecting animals from suffering and protecting species from extinction.

General Suggestions for Elephant Care

Sand needs to be added both inside the night house and on the exhibit at a depth of one meter
. Elephants cannot be kept on concrete. It is very hard on their feet and joints and causes severe medical problems. 
Besides sand covering the floor, the elephants need a larger pile of sand (approximately 2 meters high) to lie down upon.

The animals should have continuous free access to food by using feeder devices (food placed inside metal kegs with holes, hay bags, etc.) and mostly from up high.

Hay bags can be woven from ropes. The nets from International Cordage are made specifically for elephants. The zoo must contact the company for details about rope, size, etc. The Phoenix Zoo was the first zoo to incorporate the nets; however our nets are prototypes. http://www.international-cordage.net/  

Elephants need to receive large EDIBLE tree branches every day (please see attached browse list for elephants).
The elephants should no longer be chained and picture taking should be discontinued or at least reduced.
Tires can be hung from chains as enrichment.
Scratching posts made from palm trees can be chained or secured in a safe way to the fence or the poles.

Large tree logs (whole trees) can be laid all over the ground to encourage the animals to step over and/or go around them, allowing for added exercise.
Clay wallow can help with proper skin care and prevent sunburn.
Toys such a large Planet Balls are available at
http://boomerball.com/ <http://boomerball.com/.  


The following PowerPoint presentations were given to all staff:

       Lack of Substrate Use in Zoos addresses the easy fix of empty cages and shows how much benefit there is to animals’ lives when provided with substrate; i.e., when they do not have to sit inside of empty concrete cages. This is probably the most important animal welfare presentation to give out of the four.

       Contra Freeloading at the Phoenix Zoo talks about making animals work for their food in similar ways as they would in the wild, instead of eating in short periods of time from metal dishes or rubber tubs.

       Beneficial Browse gives guidelines regarding how to develop a zoo-wide browse program with numerous browse gardens in the middle of the Sonoran Desert with no money. It also addresses the major changes that fresh, leafy greens can make in the animals’ lives.

Let Them Be Elephants addresses the changes the Phoenix Zoo made in our elephants’ lives and how we helped their behaviors by teaching them how to forage right and behave like normal females. It also talks about basic husbandry, enrichment ideas and health care. Presentations are available at htresz@thephxzoo.com.

I would like to thank the Guangzhou Zoo’s director and staff, as well as the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, for their incredible hospitality — making me feel so welcome.

I would also like to thank Animals Asia Foundation for funding and organizing this trip and to establish such a wonderful, working relationship between the Jane Goodall Institute, the Phoenix Zoo and Guangzhou Zoo.


Neale. D. (1023). The cruelty of Animal Performances, AnimalsAsia, Until The CrueltyEnds https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/22920249/The%20cruelty%20of%20animal%20performances_nov13.pptx



Hilda Tresz

Behavioral Enrichment & International Animal Welfare Coordinator

Mentor, The Jane Goodall Institute


Phoenix Zoo | Arizona Center for Nature Conservation

455 N. Galvin Parkway | Phoenix, AZ 85008

p 602.286.3800 x 7120 | d 602.286.3820

htresz@phoenixzoo.org | phoenixzoo.org





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