From owls to oaks, young Chinese are adopting animals and trees
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2024-07-08  ·   Source: NO.28 JULY 11, 2024
Chen Xiaowu takes a picture with her adopted snowy owl in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on April 2 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Just one month after adopting a snowy owl in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, Chen Xiaowu from the neighboring municipality of Chongqing embarked on a special journey on April 2 to visit her adopted owl, affectionately named Dapanji, referring to the popular Chinese "big plate chicken" dish, at the Museum of Nature Exploration.

The adoption initiative began in January as a fundraising effort to support the care of the snowy owl. Chen joined the program in March. "I've been fascinated by owls for over a decade," the thirty-something dessert shop owner from Chongqing told Beijing Review. "Unfortunately, I've never seen any owls in Chongqing's zoos, and I missed the opportunity to visit an owl cafe in Tokyo, Japan, during a brief educational trip to the city. This is my first real-life encounter with an owl."

Before meeting Dapanji, Chen had meticulously prepared for their "meeting" by watching a documentary on snowy owls to familiarize herself with their behavior. The 8-year-old owl, a resident of Chengdu for the past four years, exceeded her expectations. "It's larger and more majestic than I imagined," she said.

On the day of her long-awaited visit, Dapanji had just been relocated to an air-conditioned enclosure and appeared slightly apprehensive about its new environment. Chen gently offered water to the owl by using a spray bottle.

Chen had also brought along three dolls resembling Hedwig, the owl from the Harry Potter films, and took photos of them alongside Dapanji. "The black spots on its head are like bangs. Despite being a bird of prey, it has an incredibly charming face, presenting a delightful contrast," she said.

The right connections

The snowy owl now boasts approximately 20 adopters. For a one-time fee of 488 yuan ($67), adopters receive a cushion printed with the owl's image, 30 printed photos of the owl, a naturally shed feather and a chance to feed the owl for a day. Given they are birds of prey, direct contact is avoided to minimize the risk of injury and prevent the transmission of human bacteria to the owl.

"Currently, the museum hasn't set a time limit for the adoption period," Chen explained. "The caretakers also regularly update us with photos and videos of the owl."

Chen considers adopting an effective way to gather social resources to support animals not typically seen in everyday life, helping them have a better living environment and educating more people about these creatures. "Snowy owls are very sensitive to sounds, and I hope it can remember my voice," she said. "I plan to visit it again soon in Chengdu."

In recent years, this type of animal adoption has gained popularity, particularly among young adults. "My intense work schedule doesn't allow me to keep a pet, so adoption is a simpler alternative," said Yu Feifei, a 27-year-old office worker from Beijing, in an interview with Beijing Review. Last year, she adopted a golden monkey named Er Wan from Hongshan Forest Zoo in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in east China. As an adopter, she can observe Er Wan's daily activities via a live camera feed.

"Although I have never physically visited the zoo, this monkey makes me feel more connected to the place," she said. Yu had learned about the zoo through Douyin, TikTok's Chinese sister app.

One of the country's first zoos to abolish animal performances, Hongshan Forest Zoo in 2012 found itself left with insufficient ticket revenue to cover expenses and subsequently decided to initiate an animal adoption program aiming to raise funds from the community.

But the concept of "social animal adoption" is not new in China. As early as 1996, a Chengdu company adopted a female giant panda born at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base. This pioneering feat marked the beginning of social adoption for giant pandas, with many enterprises and celebrities following suit and adopting giant pandas.

Today, many zoos across China offer animal adoption programs. "Some of my friends have adopted various animals, including tigers, giraffes and elephants," Yu said. "Taking a moment to watch these animals roam around their habitats provides a relaxing break during a busy day."

But other than offering financial support, adopting these animals also makes many program participants eager to learn more about their furry, or feathered, friends.

"If it weren't for the adoption, I might not have been motivated to learn about the different characteristics of different species of golden monkeys. It's also a great deal of fun," Yu added.

A new type of 'treet'

The concept of social adoption extends beyond animals. Beijing's Ditan Park has had a tree adoption initiative in place for over a decade. Local resident Li Zimo only discovered this opportunity last year when she came across it online; it deeply appealed to her.

Frequently visiting the park with her family as a child, she told magazine New Weekly, "Having something that connects me to a place filled with childhood memories gives me a very special feeling."

When Li applied for the one-year adoption, the more popular species, such as cherry and magnolia trees, had already been taken, leaving only cypress trees available. Once the adoption process is complete, each tree gets, and displays, a name chosen by the adopter, which can be any name containing no more than eight characters, not necessarily the adopter's real name.

On the cypress tree adopted by Li, she chose to hang the name of her childhood dog. "This wasn't my original plan," she said. "I hadn't thought about my dog for a long time. But standing there that day, it suddenly came to mind—we used to play here a lot when we were kids."

Adopting an ordinary tree in Ditan Park costs 50 yuan ($7) per year. But for those wishing to adopt a 1,000-year-old ancient tree, the cost can go up to 2,000 yuan ($275) per year. Some celebrities, including Chinese actors Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, have adopted ancient trees in the park, with their names displayed on them. Many fans visit these "celeb trees" and take photos with them as a part of their sightseeing experience.

Wang Xuan's adoption of a coffee tree stemmed from his passion for the brew. A coffee enthusiast from Huizhou, Guangdong Province in south China, Wang adopted a coffee tree last year in Yunnan Province, a renowned coffee-growing region in southwest China. The one-year adoption cost him 650 yuan ($90), which included the ability to see the tree's growth through cameras all year round and receive 2.5 kg of roasted beans from the tree.

This February, the beans were delivered to Wang's doorstep in Guangdong and the aficionado immediately brewed his first cup. "It tastes great," he said in a video he shared on Douyin. "It's different from the regular coffee you get at a random café. Watching it grow over the past year, you develop a personal connection to it."

It is this emotional connection that intensifies the coffee's flavor, echoing the promotional words from the garden where he adopted his tree: "You might not have the chance to visit Ethiopia or Jamaica, but you can certainly manage a trip to Yunnan to see your own coffee garden."

Wang is planning a trip to Yunnan this summer, ready to deepen his connection with the source of his beloved coffee. "I want to see the coffee tree right before my very own eyes," he said.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to

China Focus
Special Reports
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise with Us
Partners:   |   China Today   |   China Hoy   |   China Pictorial   |   People's Daily Online   |   Women of China   |   Xinhua News Agency
China Daily   |   CGTN   |   China Tibet Online   |   China Radio International   |   Global Times   |   Qiushi Journal
Copyright Beijing Review All rights reserved 京ICP备08005356号 京公网安备110102005860