A Malayan sun bear named Angela living in a Chinese zoo has been the subject of much chatter after a video of her circulating online led to viral speculation that she is actually a human wearing a bear costume.
The increased attention from the video has caused visitors to flock to the zoo to catch a glimpse of the newly minted internet star.
A video of the bear standing on her hind legs while interacting with crowds around her enclosure quickly went viral after observers pointed out the bear’s strange appearance and behaviour. The bear stands quite close to the onlookers and moves her arms almost as if she’s waving.
The main reason why people are skeptical about the authenticity of the bear is its behind — more specifically, its wrinkled bottom. The visible folds of skin when the bear stands up in the video resemble what a human would look like while wearing ill-fitting pants.
The original video of Angela the bear that sparked discourse was posted to Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, on July 27. A few days later, amid a flood of headlines and online chatter, the Hangzhou Zoo was forced to come out with a statement denying its bear is a furry imposter.
In a posting written from the bear’s perspective on Sunday, the zoo dismissed the rumours.
“Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much,” the posting reads.
“I got a call after work yesterday from the head of the zoo asking if I was being lazy and skipped work today and found a human to take my place,” the statement reads. “Let me emphasize again: I am a sun bear — not a black bear, not a dog — a sun bear!”
Sun bears are the size of large dogs, standing at most 1.3 metres tall on their hind legs, compared with up to 2.8 metres for grizzlies and other species, according to the zoo. Native to Southeast Asia, sun bears are most easily identified by the patch of bright orange or cream-coloured fur on their chest.
According to one wildlife biologist who spoke to NBC, the animal is “a sun bear for sure.”
“Sun bears could be very human-like,” says Wong Siew Te, the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. “They stand like humans and walk like humans.”
Te added that sun bear mothers even carry babies with their hands as they walk on their hind legs.
As Angela the bear’s viral star has risen, so too has attendance at the Hangzhou Zoo, where she lives.
Visitors numbers have increased by 30 per cent to about 20,000 a day, with some people travelling overnight to see her, local Chao News reported.
“After seeing this bear standing up on the internet, I wanted to see how it looks in real life, so I came here,” said a man surnamed You, who said he had only half-believed the video he saw online.
“After we saw the video on the internet, we specially took the high-speed train from Suzhou to come over to see the bear,” another visitor, Qian Ming, told a Hangzhou TV station. “We travelled overnight last night to get here. The bears are so cute.“
In interviews with local media, the zoo has stated that Angela is “definitely not a human.”
“Our zoo is government-run, so that kind of situation would not happen,” a member of staff said. “The temperature in the summer is nearly 40 degrees, if you put on a fur suit, you certainly couldn’t last more than a few minutes without lying down.”
— With files from Reuters