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Seal's fate uncertain after eating lighter
By Guan Xiaofeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-21 06:13

A performing seal at a restaurant is in a poor condition after swallowing a cigarette lighter thrown by a customer.

Bosses at Yugongyupo Restaurant in Beijing's Fengtai District say they are growing increasingly concerned over the welfare of the 2-year-old male seal Huanhuan.

They said they had fed Huanhuan with mustard oil on the advice of experts after the incident on Monday, hoping the lighter would pass through its body naturally.

But yesterday the seal had still not discharged the lighter and remained in a lethargic state on a platform in the restaurant's pool.

Restaurant owners claimed that at about 12:30 pm on Monday when the seal was giving performance, a customer from the crowd suddenly threw a yellow lighter to it.

Huanhuan immediately swallowed the lighter before its keeper could stop it.

The restaurant bought four seals from an aquatic farm in Dalian, a port in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, in September at 500,000 yuan (US$61,700) for each seal.

It gained a licence from the Beijing Municipal Fishery Supervision Station to have seals giving performances to attract customers.

The restaurant's manager, surnamed Liang, said they had been unable to trace the customer who threw the lighter. They called 110 for police and 120 for emergency medical service after the incident, but officers could not provide any help because they did not have any experience of dealing with a seal.

After swallowing the lighter, Huanhuan has had difficulty in eating other food, according to its keeper surnamed Zhou.

"He must be very hungry," Zhou said sadly.

To protect the seals, the restaurant built a rail around the pool and put up a board warning against throwing food or teasing the seals. They also hired a keeper to look after and train them.

"This is a serious crime of mistreating animals," said Wang Jian, an official with the Municipal Fishery Supervision Station.

Wang confirmed the station did issue a licence to the restaurant to keep seals according to relevant laws and regulations.

However, he said the government did not encourage using wild animals for entertainment purposes and charged high license and supervision fees for such practices.

"Wild animals should only be kept for the purposes of scientific research or artificial propagation," Wang said.

He added that the restaurant would not be prosecuted if the seal died as they had gained a licence for keeping it and taken required measures to try to ensure its wellbeing.

Several restaurants in Beijing keep sea animals such as seals and turtles to attract customers, according to Wang.

Seals are animals under the second-class national protection in China.

(China Daily 12/21/2005 page3)

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