From scaling walls to buying ladders: Chinese tourists are risking death to enter zoos for free

A tourist visiting the tiger garden at Qinling wildlife park in Xi'an, Shaanxi province on June 13, 2010.
A tourist visiting the tiger garden at Qinling wildlife park in Xi'an, Shaanxi province on June 13, 2010.PHOTO: REUTERS/CHINA DAILY

The chance of being mauled by a tiger or lion is a risk that not many would take, no matter how big the reward. Yet many in China are taking that chance, for savings as little as 40 yuan (S$8.14).

In order to skirt zoo entrance fees, a growing number of Chinese tourists have been climbing fences and buying cheap ladders from local residents to scale walls.

Unfortunately, many have been unprepared for what they see on the other side: tiger and lion enclosures, in dangerously close proximity.

On June 10, three such tourists - two women and one man - were caught doing so in the central city of Changsha, according to the South China Morning Post. After climbing the fence of the zoo, they realised they were just metres away from the gate of a tiger roaming zone.

While they were quickly brought to safety by the zoo's staff, their presence in the area could have cost them their lives; if the gate had been opened to let visitor buses inside, they would have been unprotected against the freely roaming tigers.

Earlier this year, another male tourist hoping to avoid zoo entrance charges was not as lucky.

After climbing two 3m walls to try and enter the Ningbo Youngor Zoo in Zhejiang province, the man found himself inside a tiger enclosure. He was then mauled by the animal and killed in his attempt to evade a 130 yuan fee, according to the South China Morning Post.

This is not the first time that visitors at the Ningbo Youngor Zoo have been endangered by attempting to enter for free. In 2006, four men climbed into the lion enclosure but were ultimately unharmed; the zoo's staff distracted the lions with food and the men were brought to safety.

Despite these incidents, tourists in other areas have continued to risk such dangers. In April, the South China Morning Post reported that at the Qinling Wildlife Park in Xi'an, visitors bought ladders from local residents for 40 yuan. This allowed them to scale the wall surrounding the park, as opposed to paying the 100 yuan entrance charge.

According to the paper, there have been no injuries as a result of using such ladders. While the park's authorities are aware of the potentially unsafe practice - a lion enclosure lies behind the wall - they have yet to take any preventive steps.