Chinese government announces a crackdown on zoo animal abuses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)

BEIJING–Moving to bring zoos into compliance with
regulations included in a draft Chinese national anti-cruelty law,
the Ministry of Housing & Urban/Rural Development on October 27,
2010 “suggested” in an official web posting that zoos should
adequately feed and house animals, should stop selling wild animal
products and serving wild animal parts in restaurants, and should
stop staging circus-like trained animal acts.
The ministry “said inspections would be carried out to see if
zoos were complying,” reported Agence France-Press. “The ministry
pointed out that some zoos had been turned into for-profit
organizations, leading to poor management and to some animals dying
in abnormal conditions or maiming people. The suggestions laid out
include providing necessary health care and banning animal
performances to ‘prevent animals from being alarmed or provoked,'”
Agence France-Press continued.

Added Associated Press, “The Ministry of Housing &
Urban/Rural Development said zoos could be shut down or receive a
citation if they disobey the guidelines during the three-month
inspection period that began on October 15. But the ministry did not
say whether the requirements would eventually be made permanent, as
would be accomplished by passage of the draft anti-cruelty law.
Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Sun Quanhui,
working in Hunchun, told Associated Press that the suggestions from
the housing ministry were “very welcome news,” but are only a step
toward legislation.
“We feel that these new guidelines are good because they
could improve the welfare of animals in zoos and help standardize
conduct at zoos,” said Sun. “We hope that in the future we will
have an actual animal welfare law that helps guarantee the basic
needs of animals in zoos and elsewhere.”
Headquartered in New York City, the Wildlife Conservation
Society operates the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park
Zoo, and New York Aquar-ium. The society became involved in China
through visits by WCS field biologist George Schaller in 1973, 1988,
and 1996.
In recent years the Wildlife Conservation Society has helped
to develop the Chang Tang Nature Reserve, a site three times the
size of the largest U.S. wildlife refuge, and a “Peace Park” that
spans the transborder regions of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and
Tajikistan–but WCS has had only a low-profile, behind-the-scenes
role in Chinese zoo issues.
Activism on behalf of Chinese zoo animals began in the
mid-1990s with zoo inspections by Hong Kong physician John Wedderburn
who went on to form the Asian Animal Protection Network.
Efforts to reform Chinese zoos have been led in recent years
by the Animals Asia Foundation, also based in Hong Kong.
“Bears being punched and beaten with sticks and forced to
box, elephants being jabbed with metal hooks to force them to stand
on their heads, and tigers and lions with teeth and claws removed,
causing chronic pain, are amongst the findings of our investigations
at China’s zoos and safari parks,” Animals Asia Foundation founder
Jill Robinson e-mailed to donors and media six weeks before the
Ministry of Housing & Urban/Rural Development posted its
Continued Robinson, “From September 2009 to August 2010,
Animals Asia Foundation investigators visited 13 safari parks and
zoos across China to document wild animal performances. A report
released on August 9, 2010 entitled Performing Animals in Chinese
Zoos details their findings. Showmen frequently engage in negative
reinforcement,” Robinson wrote, “whipping and striking the animals
repeatedly, forcing them to carry out tricks that go against their
natural behavior. Many big cats used in animal performances have had
their canine teeth either removed or cut back to gum level and are
de-clawed to make them defenseless,” Robinson charged. “Detoothed
lions and tigers were evident at five of the 13 parks we surveyed,”
she said. “This practice causes severe and chronic pain owing to the
exposure of the pulp and nerve endings, and leads to potential
infection of the surrounding area, including gums, jawbone and nasal
While the Animals Asia Foundation was gathering particulars,
the Chinese State Forestry Administration conducted a parallel
investigation of its own.
“Our report follows the recent news that the Chinese
government is launching a campaign to stop the maltreatment of
animals that are held for public display,” Robinson acknowledged.
“According to a government statement released on July 29, the State
Forestry Administration has accused companies staging animal shows of
excessive attention to profit-making, resulting in maltreatment and
early death of animals.”
The Animals Asia Foundation investigators found that 90% of
the Chinese zoos they visited used Asiatic black bears to perform,
75% of them by obliging the bears to ride bicycles, and half by
inducing or forcing the bears to perform on gymnastic rings. 75% of
the Chinese zoos exhibited performing monkeys, including monkeys on
bicycles; 75% exhibited performing tigers; and half exhibited
performing sea lions.
Half of the zoos induced monkeys to perform handstands on the
horns of goats, “often while the goat is balancing on a tightrope
some 10 feet above the ground,” Robinson continued. “The most
common tiger acts force tigers to walk on their back legs, jump
through hoops of fire, and walk on top of large balls. Elephants
were seen at four parks performing humiliating tricks such as
standing on their heads, and spinning on one leg. Of the lesser-seen
animal acts,” Robinson said, “two parks force pigs off the end of
10-foot-high platforms into water, and one park exhibits monkeys and
dogs jumping over the backs of hippopotami.”
Helping to move Chinese public opinion toward accepting zoo
reform were a series of well-publicized incidents and scandals
involving zoos.
On October 14, only a week before the Ministry of Housing &
Urban/Rural Development posted the “suggestions” for zoos, Guangzhou
Daily reported that “Five Siberian tigers in a Shenzhen wildlife park
ripped apart and killed a 54-year-old zoo worker, who slipped and
fell into the tigers’ habitat after cleaning weeds at the corridor
bridge above,” translated Wang Hanlu of People’s Daily Online.
The most influential incident, however, came to light in
March 2010 at the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in Liaoning. Wrote
New York Times correspondent Xijun Yang on March 18, “A zoo where 11
rare Siberian tigers recently starved to death is fast becoming a
symbol of the mistreatment of animals in China, with allegations of
misspent subsidies, bribes, and the deaths of at least dozens of
animals. Local authorities have stepped in to take control of the
10-year-old zoo and try to save the remaining 20 or so tigers, three
of whom are in critical condition.
“The zoo’s animal population has declined from a high of more
than 1,000 to about half that now,” Xijun Yang alleged. “Among the
charges under investigation,” Xijun Yang continued, “are employee
reports that the zoo used the bones of dead tigers to illegally
manufacture a liquor believed to have therapeutic qualities. One
employee said he had made vats of the liquor and served it to
visiting government officials.
“Court documents show,” Xijun Yang added, that the founder
“gave more than $117,000 in gifts and cash to Mu Suixin, then mayor
of the city. Mu was later convicted of taking bribes and died in
prison, according to Nanfang Daily.”
A Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo tiger mauled a worker in
2004. In 2007 four starving tigers killed and ate another tiger in
their exhibit. In November 2009 two tigers mauled worker Yang
Jingwei, 51, as he shoveled snow from a path in the zoo. “The
attack is attributed to the tigers being starved,” reported People’s
The Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo received significant
government subsidies, and had healthy gate receipts too, said
People’s Daily, but attendance had fallen by half since 2006, and
the 260 zoo staff had not been paid in 18 months. Noted People’s
Daily, “An animal caregiver surnamed Liu at Harbin’s Siberian Tiger
Park, the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world,
told the Global Times Sunday that the expense of feeding tigers is a
burden to some zoos.” Only days later the remains of more than 30
animals who allegedly died of malnutrition were found near the Harbin
Northern Forest Zoo, apparently also known as the Siberian Tiger
Park. Among them were five white lions, two white tigers, two
leopards, and five other large exotic cats.
The Harbin facility was the subject of many reports since
2005, published in both Chinese and western media, about the
practice of zoos feeding large carnivores by selling prey species to
visitors to throw to the predators alive.
“It is unclear whether this practice is classed as a
performance,” under the Ministry of Housing & Urban/Rural
Development “suggestions,” said Agence France-Press, but the
discussion of properly feeding zoo animals, in conjunction with the
discouragement of animal performances, would appear to be a strong
hint that the ministry wants live feeding to stop. Chinese zoos
operating as educational institutions were enjoined from practicing
live feeding in 2000, but zoos operating as purported conservation
institutions were allowed to continue live feeding on the pretext
that this was preparing endangered species for eventual return to the
Article 45 of the Chinese draft animal welfare bill,
produced by an academic committee funded by the Royal SPCA of Great
Britain and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, published for
comment in mid-2009, states that “during opening times feeding live
prey is prohibited.”
At least four major Chinese zoos have been exposed since 2006
for selling wine seasoned with tiger bone, among other products made
from body parts of zoo animals. Several other Chinese zoos raise
wildlife, including crocodiles, for commercial purposes. Article
48 of the draft animal welfare bill bans these activities, but
several other clauses appear to provide broad exemptions.
The draft law is officially undergoing study and revision.
State media continue to hint frequently that a national anti-cruelty
law is pending, but the exact content and timing of the introduction
remain unclear.
Laws, regulations, and “suggestions” parallel to the draft
law recommendations have already been introduced to govern other
animal use industries.
Notably, Guangzhou Daily reported on August 18, 2010, new
legislation taking effect in Guangdong province on October 1 “set a
series of strict standards for the living conditions, facilities and
drinking water provided to animals used in research. Effective
anesthesia will be required when laboratory surgeries need to be
performed. Euthanasia is also expected to become compulsory.”
Affirmed the Xinhua News Agency on September 9, “According
to the Laboratory Animals Management Regulation of Guangdong
Province, all lab animals should be anaesthetised before experimental
surgeries and animals must be euthanized after experiments, said
Zhou Haitao, an official with Guangdong’s provincial department of
science and technology.
Under the Guangdong regulation, said the Xinhua News Agency,
“if a scientific research is not conducted as required by the law,
the results of the experiments, evaluations, and other findings will
be deemed invalid. Besides Guangdong,” the Xinhua News Agency
added, “other provinces such as Heilongjiang, Guizhou and Yunnan,
and municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin have enacted similar

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