Posted by Pete DeMola on 30. May 2010
BADALING, BEIJING, MAY 30 - "Business is not good," said the lanky attendant manning the gates of the Beijing Badaling Safari World, a drive-through safari adventure located at the foot of the Badaling Great Wall.
The empty parking lot lay baking in the scathing afternoon sun. And the concrete elephants that formed the gateway, rusted-out infrastructure and creaky, replicated village street gave the entire area the aura of a bizarro Coney Island. Somewhere, a monkey was shrieking. I rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.
Here's the idea:
Carloads of folks pay (a small car with less than 6 seats: 35 RMB; more than 6 seats: 70 RMB) to drive through an animal wonderland to gawk at caged animals in overcrowded conditions and skillfully navigate the random creatures wandering through the mostly-unpaved paths. (They vie for space with vehicular traffic.)
It's easy to take a hairpin turn and BLAMMO -- roll right over an errant baby lion because animals languidly wander through the lanes.
Or in our case, a rafter of turkeys.
We watched one fellow park-goer navigate his Santana through an eight-point turn, coming within inches of an already-injured tiger, to capture the perfect photographic remembrance.
Our van cruised up and down hills, stopping only to pass through the occasional locks used to keep creatures in their own space.
Here are some notable exhibits:
A few dozen underfed lions dozing in the blistering afternoon sun and a shadeless expanse populated with dozens of brown bear cubs who eventually surrounded our vehicle with hopes for a handout. (We gave them cobs of corn before chugging off, our windows smeared with Ursus arctos saliva.)
Before long, our van came to an open horse pasture (ooh, grass!), where one could prance about on a tired-looking mare, or tromp around on a genuine camel. The one-humped creature lay supine in the center of a concrete sphere.
A mentally-reatrded boy with scarlet cheeks dribbled a basketball around the even-toed ungulate while yelling unintelligible gibberish.
A gyroscope twirled in the background. Nearby, caged fawns pranced with joy upon our arrival.
The dribbling boy chased us back into our van (No, we don't want to buy photos, thank you very much), and we ignited our engine for another round of naturschadenfreude.
There were ostriches, pumas, cages of wolves, an angry leopard, a Siberian Tiger, a yak and flamingos pecking in stagnant water.
There was an empty lot stuffed with peacocks ("Caution: Birds May Peck You") and more camels. Pandas are represented here, as well, in the form of fiberglass trash bins.
The oddest attraction?
A long cage, stuffed with random pedigrees of canines, including Dalmatians, greyhounds and common Cocker Spaniels. A gaggle of young men, ignoring the stern "no tantalizing" sign, rattled the cage, giggled and delighted in poking the dogs with their water bottles.
Although the conditions here are marginally-better than those in this country's notoriously-wretched zoos, animals are placed haphazardly throughout the complex without any sensitivity to their native habitats.
Note: Why the hell were brown bears and camels roaming through vast lots of packed dirt? Is it necessary for tigers to have to creep through narrow strips of anemic foliage?
I assume the park's owners believe that a direct relationship exists between the sheer quantity of animals and authenticity. As a result, I half-expected to clear the crest of a hill and be greeted by a assemblage of native inhabitants plucked from the deepest bowels of the African continent.
And just like a genuine turn-of-the-century safari, the thrill of danger exists here, too.
The park's highlight were the Macaca Mulatta, or Rhesus monkeys (see image above), a species native to Southeast Asia. (They were ones launched into space in the 1950s and 60s.)
Who doesn't like monkeys?
They paced angrily about their cages, emitting shrieks and growls and tried to climb over the 10-meter high chain link fence. They jumped for the trees, scampered down its branches and started moving toward us. Something about the strangely-human hirsute creatures rubbed me the wrong way.
I lit a cigarette and watched as a white Jeep approached and in unison they immediately retreated.
"Get back in your car!" shouted the park manager, waving his arms. "These monkeys are dangerous!"
He told us that these wild monkeys had attacked guests before.
If any of them had given me any grief in the 1950s and 60s, I'd have launched their pink asses into orbit, too. But naturally fitting within the chaotic parameters of the park's organization, the quarantine cage for troubled monkeys was located front-and-center like a cornucopia on a Thanksgiving table.
As we retreated down the embankment-carved steps and exited this bizarro world where animals compete with vehicles; where fat boys dribble basketballs around camels and sinister vultures scowl from vine-draped perches, the alpha monkey followed us with an air of menace.
"Don't come back," his look said. "Our people don't like folks of your sort poking round these parts."
"Don't worry," my glare said. I blew a tuft of smoke at him before stamping out my cigarette and got back in the van, where I watched as he slowly disappeared in the rearview mirror as we hurried away from this forsaken place.
"The feeling is mutual."
English-language directions to the Beijing Badaling Safari World are lacking, but this website has enough information to get you there.
Note: This article originally appeared in a different format for that's Beijing in late-2008. But I've shared it with you here because this place is awesome and you should go check it out.
Image courtesy of Flickr user OskarN through Creative Commons.
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