North America

US zoo sparks outrage after using Maori dancers to open Australian exhibit

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San Diego Zoo in the US has come under fire after a Facebook Live event used Maori dancers to open an Australian exhibition.

A US zoo has come under fire after launching an Australian exhibit with Maori dancers.

San Diego Zoo, in California, opened its Walkabout Australia exhibit on Friday local time which featured kangaroos, kookaburras and wallabies.

But the Facebook live event, streamed to users around the world, featured dancers in traditional Maori dress. 

The event prompted swift responses from users in Australia and New Zealand.

"If it's Walkabout Australia, why do you have New Zealand Maori at the start. You know New Zealand and Australia are 2 different countries," one Facebook user wrote.

"Why do you have New Zealand Maoris performing at the opening of walkabout Australia? You should know better," another user wrote.

The San Diego Zoo Facebook page reportedly replied claiming that Maori were "native" to both nations, according to Stuff NZ.

This prompted outrage from viewers.

"I'm Australian and from a remote Aboriginal community. Two totally different cultures. It's actually sad you don't know the difference," another user wrote.

"San Diego Zoo Safari Park, your facts about Maori are 100% WRONG!!! You just offended about 4.6 million New Zealanders and about 25 million Australians," one Facebook user commented.

San Diego Zoo replied on Facebook: "Our sincere apologies. We were given incorrect information. The various entertainment featured recently in Walkabout Australia is a preview of our upcoming event Summer Safari, which features entertainment from all over the globe. Again, our apologies."

A San Diego Zoo spokesperson told SBS News the exhibit launch was part of a wider "Summer Safari entertainment" program.

"As part of opening festivities for Walkabout Australia, we previewed our Summer Safari entertainment, which features cultures from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Australia," a spokesperson told SBS News.

"In including regional entertainment, we meant no offense and did not mean to imply that Maori are of the aboriginal Australian culture. We have tremendous respect for the peoples, wildlife, and culture of Australasia. Our apologies to anyone who might have been offended by our entertainment selection."

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