An Olympian opportunity for humane work in China

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:
BEIJING–A seven-year window of opportunity for humane work in China opened on July 13 when the International Olympic Committee on July 13 awarded the 2008 summer Olympic Games to Beijing. Said Grace Ge Gabriel, China director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, whose office is in Beijing, “We think that having the Olympics in Beijing will be good for animals. It will open China more to new ideas, and will encourage China to be further engaged with the rest of the world, adhering to international standards.”

Added Asian Animal Protection Network founder John Wedderburn, M.D., “Now that the Chinese have the games, they know they will be under scrutiny for the next seven years, and we have a chance to persuade them to introduce reforms.” Based in Hong Kong, Wedderburn travels extensively in mainland China as an on-call medical escort for foreigners who become injured or ill and must be evacuated.

From now until the games conclude, the onus will be on Beijing to present itself to the world in the most favorable possible light. Thousands of people from the 123 Olympic nations will visit during the years of preparation for the games, and tens of thousands will visit for the games themselves.
China hopes to use the opportunity to attract ongoing investment and tourism, yielding benefits long after the games end. If visitors ask that animals be treated kindly, Chinese authorities will be under pressure to comply–and there will be a clear pretext for cracking down on offenders. If visitors ask to see Chinese humane societies, meet the founders, and see how the Chinese conduct humane education, China is likely to regard its small but fast-growing animal protection community with increasing respect.

A hint that this is already happening appeared in a July 24 China Daily item about a new lab animal breeding center in Shanghai. Summarized Agence France Presse, “The $3.6 million center marks a step forward in standards in a country not known for its record on human rights, let alone animal rights. Great efforts will be made to reduce the number of laboratory animals used, improve their living conditions, and use lower forms of life instead of rats and mice for research, center director Xu Ping said. ‘They sacrifice their lives for human beings and it is our duty to treat them as well as possible, he said.'”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Fondation Brigitte Bardot, and SOS St. Bernard Dogs International petitioned the IOC against giving the Olympics to Beijing because of the lack of national animal protection legislation. “Without a promise from the Chinese government to enact long-overdue national animal protection laws, PETA is asking the IOC to reject Beijing’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games,” PETA researcher Peter Woods announced on June 7.
PETA, Fondation Brigitte Bardot, and SOS St. Bernard Dogs media statements described the cruelty associated with dog-and-cat-eating in parts of China, the preparation of some traditional Chinese medical treatments, and the practice of feeding live animals to carnivores at wildlife parks which pretend to be rehabilitating tigers, bears, and other species for eventual return to the wild. But the PETA demand was not backed by any groups working in China–and in May the Humane Society of the U.S. endorsed the Beijing bid for the Olympics.

Lessons from Korea

“I am relieved that Beijing got the Olympics,” Wedderburn said. “If Beijing had not, there would have been widespread resentment in China, with increased antipathy toward westerners and ‘western’ ideas.”

The idea of being kind to animals might have been among the casualties. Although being kind to animals is also basic to Buddhism, the religion of about 6% of China, official repression of Buddhism began in 845 A.D., and has continued throughout the Communist regime.

SOS St. Bernard Dogs founder Eleanor Moser, of Switzerland, continued efforts to pressure China by threat of boycott. “They have to change their ethical standards before the 2008 Olympics as much as for humans as for animals,” Moser said. But Ge Gabriel hinted that IFAW, among other groups, may have learned a tactical lesson from having pushed a boycott of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, to obtain national humane legislation there. The key item, not ratified until 1991, was a purported ban on selling dog meat. It has never been enforced, and may be unenforceable without amendments to remove legal flaws.
Once the ban was decreed on paper, the international organizations that pursued it turned away. Progress in South Korea stalled until 1999, when a leading opponent of the present ruling political party argued that enough time had passed that the unenforced ban could be safely repealed. Only then did the worldwide animal protection community realize that the big groups had left South Korea before ensuring that an adequate humane infrastructure was in place to turn the gains on paper into reality.

IFAW had helped sisters Sunnan and Kyenan Kum to found the Korea Animal Protection Society, in Daigu, and the International Aid for Korean Animals, an affiliate in Oakland, California, but cut their funding after the “victory.” As South Korea democratized under global pressure that began with the Olympics, KAPS and IAKA did not have the budget, the staff, or the promotional support to make animal protection an ongoing domestic political issue.

In China, said Ge Gabriel, “Im-proving legislation and increasing education are equally important means to change the conditions for animals. Without staying engaged with China, with the government and its people, these simply cannot be achieved. Pointing fingers from afar is useless and will only alienate China and can sometimes backfire. I am sure most of the Chinese people want to present China at the 2008 Olympics as a nation that is environmentally friendly, harmonious with nature, and compassionate to all living beings,” Ge Gabriel emphasized.

China bear rescue

Agreed Jill Robinson of the Animals Asia Foundation, headquartered in Hong Kong, “The next seven years are crucial for encouraging wide-ranging reforms to protect all animal species from cruelty through responsible legislation. It is a time for those who hold great hopes for the animals in China to see those hopes realized through positive progress and promotion.”
Robinson sees the awarding of the Olympics to Beijing as especially auspicious for the Animals Asia campaign against bear bile farming, in which caged bears’ gall bladders are catheterized. Bear bile was once used mainly to reduce fevers, but the uses have diversified in recent years, as demand and the purchase price of bile have fallen off. Working against bear bile farming since 1993, Robinson began taking retired bile farm bears into sanctuary in 1995, with support from IFAW, and in mid-2000 agreed to accept 500 bears during the
next five years.
“One of our prime intentions with the China Bear Rescue project,” Robinson told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “has been to keep the bear bile issue within the public arena. While it is common knowledge that some officials are promoting the expansion of bile farms and seeking international trade,” contrary to current Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species policy, “there is still no support to that end from the central government. Therefore, it is doubtful that China would apply for permission to export bile before the 2008 Olympics, which allows us a seven-year opportunity,” Robinson said, “to work more strategically with the officials who have joined us in calling for the end of bear farming–and to gain official clarification on the position of the central government.

“Animals Asia is planning a series of seminars on the use of bear bile across Asia and how it can be replaced,” Robinson continued. “Ttraditional Oriental medicine practitioners and experts from universities in the west will be encouraged to share information and expertise. The first such seminar will be held in Vietnam, where the bear bile industry is growing and is out of control. We hope China will host the second seminar.

“The China Bear Rescue continues successfully,” Robinson added. “All of the first 100 bears have now been cut out of their original ‘crush’ cages and are well on their way to recovery, and we are planning to rescue many more. The land for a permanent sanctuary for the first 100 bears has been chosen. Negotiations continue for the best price and long term tenure,” as land in China can only be leased, not purchased.

Relocation to the permanent site, Robinson said, “cannot happen soon enough–the rescue centre is bursting with playful and inquisitive bears,” who are making the most of their newly acquired freedom of movement, “and we constantly have to invent new ways of preventing them from destroying the lush but expensive turf.”

Tiger farming

Economic and political momentum already seem to favor an end to bear-bile farming. The advent of Viagra has already knocked the bottom out of the market for seals’ penises and other purported aphrodisiacal animal parts. Traditional Chinese medicine in general is declining in popularity as modern drugs become more available, and the Chinese government is encouraging traditional Chinese medicial practicioners to turn toward plant-based remedies in any event, to conserve wildlife and keep money within the country.

The black market in tiger bones and other parts may be harder to deal with–and the live feedings at some zoos and wildlife parks are a related problem. Wild tigers have been poached to the verge of extinction in China, with no more than 15 Siberian tigers believed to remain along the northern border and about 200 South China tigers along the borders of India, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. Little habitat remains for more.

Yet as of February 2001 there were reportedly 170 Siberian tigers at the government-run Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, Manchuria. About 60 cubs were due to be born. The park management complained of having trouble feeding them all, despite attracting half a million visitors per year.
There were 62 South China tigers in Chinese zoos as of July 21, according to The People’s Daily, some of whom were slated for eventual release into a nature park planned for Fujian province. As tigers breed readily in captivity, that population too could explode. Essentially, Chinese zoos and nature parks which have tigers seem to be farming them–and the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park staff even admitted to Michael Lev of the Chicago Tribune that they have stockpiled the remains of dead tigers, hoping to eventually be allowed to sell the parts. Only the adherence of the central government to CITES seems to be restraining an active traffic.

The biggest motivation for China to comply with CITES may be that it must respect international conservation laws in order to continue cashing in on panda loans to foreign zoos–especially those in the U.S. The two pandas on exhibit since January 2001 at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. brought China $10 million. The pandas at the San Diego Zoo fetch $1.2 million per year plus $600,000 per cub birth. Rationalized as experiments in captive breeding, panda loans have produced just a handful of offspring, but are believed to be the biggest single source of funding for Chinese nature conservation.

Status of dogs

The hardest humane issue in China, however, is the mixed status of dogs. Large dogs are commonly eaten in the northeastern part of the country, adjacent to Korea, and dog-eating occurs to some extent throughout China. Small purebred dogs, however, are increasingly popular as high-status pets, especially since the advent of one-child families has left more empty space in homes and hearts.

China Daily, the official government newspaper, estimates that the 14 million Beijing residents keep about 100,000 pet dogs legally–but the cost of licensing a dog for the first time is about half the average annual wage in Beijing, and about 20% of the average annual wage for each year thereafter. There are strict size limits. Dogs may only be walked outdoors at night. Dogs found at large or whose owners don’t have their permits with them are sometimes impounded and sometimes just killed. House-to-house purges of illegally kept dogs have come every few years in major Chinese cities since the Communists seized power in 1949 and made a top priority of exterminating every animal seen as competing with peasants for food.
As bootlegged dogs sell for as little as $12, Beijing dog law critic Wang Liquin recently told Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press, people whose dogs are seized usually abandon them, rather than pay a fine, and later buy an illegal replacement.

Protest against the harsh dog laws has flared at times, but Beijing maintains strict limits on any kind of activism, and Chinese official media insist that strict dog laws helped bring the Olympics to Beijing, over runners-up Paris, Istanbul, Toronto, and Osaka. “Police warned of intensified dog checks as part of a clean-up of Beijing for Olympic inspectors who assessed the city’s bid in February,” Bodeen wrote.

Said the Liberation Daily after the inspection, “It’s plain to see that wild dogs and mad dogs have become a potential drag on Paris’ bid to host the Olympics.”

Chinese media reportedly made much of the estimated 15 tons of dog poop cleaned from Paris streets each day, left by the pets of about 200,000 people–and of the June announcement by the city adminsitration that a 20-year-old fleet of municipal poop-scooping vehicles will be taken out of service and not replaced at the end of the year, to save more than $5 million.
Little or nothing was said about petitions circulated against Chinese dog-eating in Paris and Toronto, and a protest against dog-eating led by Turk activist Susan Erkus in April outside the Chinese consulate in Istanbul. Yet the Chinese government was made aware that much of the world finds dog-eating offensive. Chinese officials will have increasing difficulty keeping it from becoming an issue within China as well as outside. The Beijing Olympics may offer opportunities for escalating activism against dog-and-cat-eating in South Korea, too.

Of possible significance is that the Gimpo and Inchon airports near Seoul are the two major international airports closest to Beijing, other than Beijing’s own airport. However, China can be expected to encourage traffic to go via Shanghai and Hong Kong instead, since that would keep more money within the Chinese borders. More important, believes Anti-Dogmeat Movement Headquarters web site coordinator Dr. Sang Ook Yoon, is the cultural precedent that Chinese and Korean opponents of dog-eating could set for each other. If either nation really halts dog-eating, Dr. Yoon argued in a July 10 e-mail, the other will more easily be persuaded to follow.
Recent encouraging signs from South Korea included favorable coverage in the Korea Herald of the July 16 anti-dogmeat protests held around the world to coincide with one of the three summer “dog-eating days” on which consumption peaks. Reporter M.H. Kim wrote that “the South Korean embassies in the United States and Britain have recently sent letters to the home government to urge that measures be introduced to prevent maltreatment of dogs ahead of the 2002 World Cup soccer finals,” mentioning that “foreigners express great displeasure with the custom of boiling dogs and cats alive to make a tonic, beating dogs to death, and transporting many dogs in small cages.”

On July 24, in a letter to activist Samantha Pearl, Seoul mayor Goh Kun stated his own belief that animals should not be mistreated, and announced that he had forwarded criticism of the Moran market to the authorities responsible for that suburb, which is not under his own jurisdiction.


“Changes for better conditions for animals will take place, I am sure,” Ge Gabriel insists, “and some are already happening. Recently the Guangdong Government banned the eating of endangered species in restaurants and selling them in the markets,” she offered by way of example. “Although there are still loopholes in the regulation, the impact is evident.”

As recently as April 2001, Helen Luk of Associated Press reported that at the Xin Yuan market “on the outskirts of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, despite authorities’ attempts to stop the trade in state-protected animals and campaigns to discourage the consumption of wildlife in general, business is booming.” In late 1999, Luk said, the Xin Yuan market “offered only civets and a few other species, but during two raids in March, officials seized monitor lizards, owls, pangolins, and birds like pekin robins, hwamei, and pheasants–all under state protection.” Also evident, and protected by CITES but not within China, were “king cobras, giant turtles, barking deer, wild boars, flying squirrels, masked palm civets, and leopard cats.”

On July 25, Ge Gabriel said, she visited “the most notorious market for animals in Guangzhou, the Qingping Market, “and did not encounter many of species we used to see. Instead, we saw people selling dogs and cats as pets. This certainly does not mean that dogs and cats are not killed for food any more,” Ge Gabriel acknowledged, “and a lot is to be desired about the conditions in the market, but it does give me a hint of hope that people’s views are changing.”

Global impact

If the Beijing Olympics bring a lasting decline in the Chinese appetite for wildlife, animals will benefit throughout the world– especially in Southeast Asia, where wildlife poaching and trafficking to Chinese markets rivals the opium trade in economic scope.
“Within sight of a sign urging ‘Don’t sell wildlife,’ a roadside vendor is peddling four slow lorises–little primates with sad luminous eyes–to be burned alive and churned into Chinese
medicines,” Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote from Dey Ambil, Cambodia, on June 3, documenting one of the newer wildlife trafficking corridors.

Gray said a gibbon could be hunted to order for $200. “Once an Eden for primates,” Gray said, “Cambodia along with Vietnam and Laos are being rapidly emptied of these creatures by meat poachers, traditional medicine merchants, and villagers encroaching on their range. Even the Cardamon Mountains of southwestern Cambodia, long protected by war, malaria, and their remote location, are threatened. A mortal danger to gibbons and other primates in Indochina is the area’s proximity to China, where the demand for exotic meat, medicine, and aphrodisiacs seems insatiable, and growing with prosperity.”

Similar binges on wildlife exterminated the great auk, the passenger pigeon, the ivory-billed woodpecker, Stellar’s sea cow, and other species as prosperity came to North America through the combination of improved technology and opening former wilderness to exploitation. The North American bison, beaver, and even whitetailed deer were extirpated from most of the continent before the humane movement rose against the slaughter and the conservation movement emerged to regulate hunting lest animal defenders ban it.

As China and Southeast Asia move through a similar phase, Americans and Europeans can help them avoid similar tragedy, but have little to be smug about in view of the western contribution to the totality of animal pain and suffering. Torture for the sake of torture may not be part of western preparation of animals for human consumption, yet the animals still suffer, ANIMAL PEOPLE subscriber Sherrill Durbin pointed out in a July 8 letter to The New York Times.

The Times the day before had published an expose by Craig S. Smith of the growth of the dog meat industry in Peixan, China, the reputed dog butchery capital of the nation for more than 2000 years. Peixan kills about 300,000 dogs per year, Smith reported. About
half of the meat is sold to Korea. The biggest Peixan producer is a man named Han Fei, who kills about 100,000 dogs per year. Han Fei is among the importers of St. Bernard and Dalmatian breeding stock, to producer bigger dogs for slaughter. His specialty is dog meat pulled off the bones by hand, stewed with turtles. Han Fei and neighbor Wang Junhua, among others, also sell dog fur and leather.

“No one seemed upset,” Smith wrote of his visit to Peixan, “by the spooked look of the live dogs bound for slaughter, their ears flattened and head lowered, with anxiety in their shiny black eyes.” Responded Durbin, “Millions of cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals are raised in the cruelest conditions imaginable on factory farms in the U.S. These animals suffer just as much as the dogs raised for meat in other countries,” although they are not deliberately tortured at the end, as is common practice in China and Korea. “Please think about that the next time you eat meat,” Durbin concluded. “Then consider going vegetarian.”

As Chinese people eat, on average, less than a tenth as much meat as Americans, their per capita contribution to animal suffering may actually be less.
Contacts in China

The Asian Animal Protection Network “consists of an e-mail list and a web site,” according to founder John Wedderburn, at <> and <>.

The Animals Asia Foundation is headquartered at P.O. Box 82, Sai Kung Post Office, Kowloon, Hong Kong; telephone 852-2791-2225; fax 852-2791-2320; e-mail <>; <>.

Asians for Humans, Animals & Nature may be reached c/o 3739 Balboa St., Suite 228, San Francisco, CA 94121; telephone 415-221-5733; fax 415-379-9938; e-mail <>; <>.

The Hong Kong SPCA is headquartered at 5 Wan Shing St., Wanchai, Hong Kong; telephone 852-2802-0501; fax 852-2802-7229; <>.

IFAW-China may be contacted c/o 1805 Golden Land Plaza, 32 Liang Ma Qiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China 100016; telephone 86-10-6464-3599 or 86-10-6464-4888; fax 86-10-6464-3522; e-mail <>; < >.

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