One man and his menagerie





Luo Yingjiu, founder of Fenghuang Mountain Zoo, takes care of an aged horse in January 2019. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Luo Yingjiu, founder of Fenghuang Mountain Zoo, takes care of an aged horse in January 2019. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Despite various difficulties, for 33 years, Luo Yingjiu, 82, has run a small zoo in Enshi, Hubei province, on his own.

The old design of the animals' living quarters and the iron railings hint at the history of the zoo and its "obsoleteness".

At the one-man Fenghuang Mountain Zoo, Luo serves as director, cleaner, breeder, vet and conductor.

Most of the residents of the zoo are old and infirm, many of which were saved by Luo. The zoo's lion, tiger and python passed away years ago, leaving only a bear, some peafowls, a troop of monkeys, a Tibetan mastiff, a wild boar, two raccoons and about 20 dogs.

Luo has given names to all the animals in the zoo and addresses them affectionately when he interacts with them.

A ticket only costs 10 yuan ($1.5) per person, and it's free for children. But the zoo's appeal to locals has long since faded. It's not profitable, and Luo has even fallen into debt to maintain the zoo.

In recent times, due to the pandemic, the number of visitors has dwindled to just several people a day.

While the world changes rapidly, the zoo remains much the same, and so does Luo's persistence and his love for the animals. Such an old-fashioned zoo seems incongruous, even anachronistic, in the modern age.

"Many people tell me to rest at this old age, but my wish is to maintain the zoo with all my heart until my last day. Since I've shouldered the responsibility, I shall never retreat from it," says the former soldier, in the local dialect.

"I'm old in age, but young in mind. The zoo is my lifetime's happiness."

His long white hair has seen him mistaken for a woman, and once an elderly visitor insisted on calling him "younger sister". Once, he cut his long hair, but one of the monkeys didn't recognize him, so he has kept it long ever since.

Cinema worker to savior

After Luo retired from the army in 1978, he took a job at Qingjiang Cinema in Enshi.

Covered with thick forest, the mountainous region has rich biodiversity.

While putting up posters advertising the cinema before dawn, Luo saw people carrying large sacks to a nearby market. They were hunters from deep mountains, hoping to sell wild animals for money.

"Animals are cute. They are friends to human beings and we should love them," Luo says. He started to buy the poor animals, such as masked civets and muntjac deer, and take them home, as well as telling whoever would listen about the importance of protecting wildlife.

Gradually, he ended up saving even more animals, which, being kept near the cinema, began to attract the attention of their own audience.

This news comes from: China Daily

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