And they would have gotten away with it too, if the dog hadn't started barking.
A zoo in the eastern Chinese city of Luohe was caught trying to substitute a large Tibetan mastiff for a full-size African lion, but claimed it had a good reason for the switcheroo.
Liu Suya, director of the People's Park, told the Beijing Youth Daily it had to send its lion to a breeding facility, and the zoo decided to use the spare cage to house an employee's dog which had to be taken out of its home "over safety concerns."
Liu's excuse might have been acceptable, had the zoo not also tried to pass off another dog as a wolf, a white fox as a leopard, and two coypu rodents as snakes.
Most visitors were insulted by the deception and wondered why they were paying $2.45 to see knockoff animals.
But at least one local blogger said the zoo could end up making a killing out of this "gimmick."
"People would want to know what they could think of next. Earthworms as pythons? An eggplant disguised as a sea cucumber?," he is quoted as saying.
[photos via SCMP, Getty]