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Tuning in for animals

Updated: 2024-03-02 10:19 ( China Daily )
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GALA, a Beijing-based rock band that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, performs in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on Feb 22, in a charity concert in collaboration with Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Popular Beijing band puts on benefit concert for one of the country's top zoos, Chen Nan reports.

What do a band and a zoo have in common? For Shen Zhijun, head of the Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo, a band relaxes people with music and a zoo relaxes people with chances of getting closer to nature and wildlife.

"They both have the ability to heal," says Shen.

On a snowy night on Feb 22, a benefit concert for the zoo was held at a venue called the Owl in Nanjing in Jiangsu province. Headlined by GALA, a Beijing-based indie rock band, the event was organized in collaboration with the Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo.

In addition to GALA, Maoxuewang, a band from Nanjing, and other GALA musician friends also performed.

As one of the most popular zoos in the country, with about 6.7 million visitors last year, the Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo is home to around 3,000 animals from 260 species.

Dubbed the "King of the Animals" on social media, Shen is one of the best-known zoo heads in the country. In 2021, as the zoo was facing difficulties due to the pandemic, Shen took to the internet to introduce the 65-hectare wildlife park in the forested hills north of Nanjing, with the idea of transforming it from a traditional zoo to one that values wildlife conservation.

The zoo's old steel-bar enclosures and concrete cages have gone and natural-looking barriers now separate the public from the animals, whose habitats now resemble their natural environments in the wild.

Supporters were impressed by the team's efforts over the course of a decade since Shen became the head of the zoo in 2008, which have changed the zoo's appearance and put an end to animal shows — the financial lifeblood of many zoos.

"People love coming to our zoo because they experience positive emotional connections with the animals. Music also adds an emotional touch (through things like the benefit concert)," says Shen, adding that they have been making a great effort to expand the zoo's fan base through a variety of collaborations.

"We want more people to learn about wildlife conservation and the idea of respecting wild animals in zoos."

GALA has been giving benefit concerts, mostly for schools for underprivileged children, since 2018. They chose Feb 22 as the date for their concert because in Chinese, the number two is a homophone for "love". The concert was also streamed on platforms like Douyin, and was viewed by more than 20 million people.

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