State may create nationwide guidance on zoo practices
BEIJING: The central government will map out a nationwide guidance on animal treatment at zoos or privately-owned animal farms, if an ongoing investigation proves widespread malpractices such as the one that starved 11 tigers in three months, a senior official said.
"We are closely following the development of the incidents," said Liu Xiongying, a senior official with information office at the State Forestry Administration.
"If it proves such bad practices are happening on a large scale, the administration will release nationwide measures to stop such actions."
Liu's remarks indicate the high-level attention provoked the latest exposure over the death of 11 Siberian tigers due to malnutrition over a span of three months at Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in the provincial capital. Another two tigers were shot dead in November 2009 when they attacked a zookeeper.
An investigation began on Saturday, with investigators from the State Forestry Administration probing into the case.
The number of animals in the zoo has dropped by half in a decade, from 1,020 of 61 species in 2000 to 518 of 49 species in 2010.
The zoo is mainly privately owned with the Shenyang City Government having a 15 percent share. The government allocated 5 million yuan ($732,000) on Sunday for rescuing the remaining animals.
Animal welfare activists hailed the possible guidance on protection of animal welfare at zoos.
"The horrible acts at Shenyang zoo is not an individual case, nor an accident," said Hua Ning, China program manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare China (IFAW).
"What is beneath the tiger deaths is the widespread existence of cruel treatment to animals at zoos in China."
Animals are often left outside for long hours to amuse zoo visitors, and many live in very small spaces, which leads to chronic diseases, Hua said.
National standards on the safety, sanitation and monitoring of animals is necessary, she said.
The incident serves as a wake-up call to legislators on the need for a law on animal abuse, she said, adding, "Without a legal punishment, such cruel actions will continue to happen."
When the spotlight revealed that a strike over payment delays in the Shenyang zoo could be a major reason that led to the death of the tigers, animal protection experts cast doubts.
Cao Liang, director of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, insisted that the case is an extreme example in the field.
"The starvation of tigers and other animals at the zoo in Shenyang is definitely not a common practice at zoos across the country," Cao said.
"Most zoos make money as the expanding tourist market in recent years bring an increasing number of visitors. Even the badly operated zoos can make ends meet," he added.
Cao also disputed casting blame on the lack of regulations in the zoos.
Each zoo has to acquire permits for breeding and raising animals, which require a high standard on environment and techniques, he said.
"What happened in the Shenyang zoo is a result of a poor work ethic," he said.