Eastern China’s Hangzhou Zoo is having a bit of a public relations crisis. Following a viral video, staff have felt compelled to deny that its resident bear is really a human employee in a costume.
According to The Washington Post, the theory took hold via the internet this week after widely circulated footage of a sun bear set off alarms for many viewers. In the video, the bear is seen standing on its hind legs, with a seeming surplus of sagging skin—or a sagging bear suit—collecting around its hind quarters. The bear, named Angela, also appeared to offer a halfhearted wave to the assembled crowd before ambling away.
The anthropomorphic mannerisms led some people to insist the zoo was being deceptive and putting a human on display. But the zoo refuted the claims on social media, writing in the first person (or first bear) that visitors “know nothing about me.” The latter statement could lead to speculation the ursine is apparently an angsty teenager.
“Previously, some tourists thought that I was too tiny to be a bear,” added the bear. “I have to emphasize again: I am a Malayan sun bear! Not a black bear! Not a dog! A sun bear!”
Another staffer insisted that, owing to the extreme heat, a human in a bear suit would likely pass out and that such a stunt “doesn’t normally happen” in zoos.
That’s not quite the same as saying it never happens. Nonetheless, the theory is still likely to be inaccurate. Speaking with The Washington Post, wildlife biologist Wong Siew Te said that the controversy stems from widespread misunderstanding of sun bears, which are more modest in stature—they grow to be about 4 to 5 feet tall—than other bears and that the “waving” was more a plea for food. Its loose skin, he added, provides protection against predators, who may have a tougher time controlling the animal because of it. Walking on its hind legs is also not unusual.
Hangzhou Zoo may not welcome the debate, but they appear to be benefiting from it. Attendance is up 30 percent since the allegations were first made.