Chinese zoo exhibit featuring rare animal prompts growing concern

The rare dolphin's entire top jaw was broken off after an accident in its tank.

Chinese conservationists have expressed dismay, after a video was shared online allegedly showing a zoo forcing a rare dolphin to perform tricks. The striking Chinese white dolphin was reportedly “rescued” after it became stranded in 2007, but since becoming housed at Nanning Zoo it has become disfigured and can no longer be returned to the wild.

“Its upper jaw was broken off. And it is under the first grade of national protection. However, the zoo is still using it to do some performance,” a spokesperson from China Cetacean Alliance (CCA) told Yahoo News. “It has been in captivity for a very long time.”

While Nanning Zoo also features monkey and elephant shows, its white dolphin performance became a new point of discussion on Chinese social media in 2024 after pictures and video were shared online. Video from February shows the animal leaping into the air and swimming at speed through the pool.

The Chinese white dolphin in a tank at Nanning Zoo.
There are concerns about the welfare of a Chinese white dolphin named Lao Bai. Source: Endangered Species Fund

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Older footage appears to show it twirling a hula hoop on what remains of its jaw. “People went there and were shocked to see a Chinese white dolphin with a broken upper jaw doing a performance,” CCA said. "So the whole thing is not good."

Why the rare dolphin can't be released into wild

CCA, which advocates for captive dolphins and whales in China, visited Nanning Zoo in 2018. At the time, it reported the enclosures as being “very bad”, alleging the water smelled and paint was peeling from the walls. At the time, it was only two bottlenose dolphins that were forced to perform.

Two images showing the Chinese white dolphin which is missing its upper jaw.
Images from 2017 show the extent of the white dolphin's injury. Source:

Named Lao Bai, the white dolphin reportedly broke its jaw after it became lodged in a pipe for a prolonged period at night. Although it is no longer fit to be released, CCA would like to see the animal receive a better life. “It could receive more enrichment. And I really hope we could have more sanctuaries,” it said.

Recent footage appears to show Lao Bai floating motionless at the edge of its tank. In 2017, Nanning Zoo denied it was using the dolphin to entertain tourists, saying the performances were to help maintain the animal’s health and wellbeing. Yahoo News has attempted to contact the zoo for comment.

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