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Bear attack on monkey sparks calls for laws

By Xie Yu in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-10 15:45

A black bear's attack on a monkey in the Shanghai Wild Animal Park (SWAP) has triggered heated discussion about animal performances in China, which are not regulated by legislation.

A video clip uploaded online on Monday shows the black bear biting the monkey's neck during a bicycle riding show.

The park confirmed the attack and said the monkey is fine, and the performance resumed on Wednesday.

"The performance is pure mistreatment," said Zhang Dan, co-founder of China Animal Protection Media Saloon.

"Not a single monkey or black bear would willingly accept such training for the bicycle riding act. Imagine how hard it is for a big, clumsy bear to keep its balance on a bike. It totally goes against the nature of the animal. But they cannot speak for themselves about their fear, pain or unwillingness, and that is very sad."

There are no strict laws on animal performances in China. The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a circular in 2010 banning animal performances nationwide, but it did not specify penalties.

"I know there is such a circular, but it does not apply to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park," said Pan Weihua, spokesman for the park.

The circular only affects zoos directly under the ministry, like Shanghai Zoo, which is fully supported by State finances, Pan said.

SWAP, though a State-owned company, does not receive State funding, but carries out scientific research programs that serve the country, he said.

SWAP employs about 500 animal keepers and researchers at a cost of 100 million yuan ($16.1 million) annually. It barely makes enough money from admission tickets and performance charges to cover those costs, Pan said.

SWAP designs animal performances based on the creatures' life habits, which he calls "healthy sports".

"We used to have tigers jumping through a ring of flames. It was a big hit with audiences and profitable. But we later quit doing it because tigers are naturally afraid of fire and we did not want to psychologically harm them," he said.

Zhang said animals in such performances suffer.

"The animal training is all about whips from the trainer, blood, tears and hunger of the animal," she said.

Some cases of animal abuse have drawn widespread media attention recently. Last week, footage emerged online of two zoo workers mistreating a tiger at a zoo in Taizhou, Zhejiang province. In the footage, a man in uniform was riding on the back of the tiger, and another man was slapping the animal's head.

In 2010, 11 rare tigers were starved to death at Shenyang Wildlife Zoo in Liangning province.

"China needs national legislation on animal abuse, and authorities should streamline the administration over zoos and wildlife parks," said Hua Ning, a project manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"The point is that the major purpose of a zoo or a wild animal park is to improve people's understanding of animals and strengthen their awareness of animal protection."

Some successful zoos and parks overseas make good money by engaging adults and children in animal protection activities, which is much more sustainable than animal performances, she said.

Urban zoos in China are under the administration of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, while many wildlife parks that emerged after the 1990s are under the forestry authorities.

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