“TWO OF THE FUNNIEST POLAR BEARS IN THE WORLD CHASE HAPPILY EVERY DAY,” promises the website for Harbin Polarland, a Chinese theme park that claims to be home to the world’s first polar bear hotel. “AN UNPARALLELED SHOW OF POLAR BEARS WILL BE PRESENTED FOR YOU.”
Conservationists and animal rights groups aren’t quite so sure that the bears are happy. The unusual attraction, which opened Friday, features 21 guest rooms that look out over an indoor enclosure where the bears gambol across a floor painted to look like an ice floe. Fake rocks line the courtyard, and fake icicles dangle overhead.
“This hotel is akin to a 21st-century bear pit,” Simon Marsh, the acting director of Britain-based Wild Welfare, said in a statement. Polar bears need fresh air, space to roam around and the ability to seek out natural stimulation, unbothered by visitors, he said.
A video shared on social media by a Beijing-based conservationist Monday seemed to show a polar bear pacing back and forth in the enclosure, displaying what experts say are clear signs that the animal is distressed.
“Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums — and certainly not in hotels,” Jason Baker, the senior vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia, said in a statement. “Polar bears are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life.”
The hotel has defended keeping the animals in captivity, saying that the polar bears aren’t exclusively housed in the small indoor courtyard. Yang Liu, a spokeswoman for Harbin Polarland, told Reuters that the polar bears spend time outside when the weather and air quality permits.
But the hotel’s main selling point is 24/7 access to polar bears. “Whether you’re eating, playing or sleeping, polar bears will keep you company,” a recent post on Harbin Polarland’s WeChat account said.
Located roughly five hours south of the Russian border in Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, Harbin Polarland is also home to beluga whales, arctic foxes and what the park claims is the “first Antarctic penguin born in an inland city.” Rooms at the polar bear hotel cost between 1,888 and 2,288 yuan, the equivalent to roughly $290 to $352 a night. Even at that high price point, bookings for the initial trial period have completely sold out, Reuters reported.
Aquariums and themed wildlife parks are a booming industry in China, but animal welfare advocates have raised concerns about what often are cramped, unnatural living conditions. In 2016, a mall in the southern city of Guangzhou drew international criticism for housing bears, beluga whales and walruses in small enclosures that were described as resembling a prison.
China has also faced criticism for allowing thousands of bears to be farmed for their bile, which some believe has medicinal properties.