tiger training
The Chinese have a terrible reputation when it comes to the treatment of animals. There are virtually no wild animals or birds left in much of China because they have all been eaten or killed as pests. The Chinese eat dogs, cats, rats, and almost every other animals. In zoos, monkeys and gibbons in cramped cages are poked with sticks by onlookers or shot by children with popguns. Sometimes monkeys fight back by flinging their feces.

Some inscribed oracle bones dating to the Shang period (1766-1050 B.C.) mention the rite of ning, which involved dismembering a dog to honor the winds."It is the belief of many Chinese I met that animals such as cats and dogs do feel pain," wrote Theroux. "They are on earth to be used — trained, put to work, killed and eaten. When you see the dumb, laborious lives that Chinese peasants live it is perhaps not so surprising they torture animals."The harsh treatment of animal is not considered a cultural trait. In the old days animals were greatly respected and were seen as an important part of everyday life. Some trace the habit of eating anything with meat back to periods of famine and the Cultural Revolution when food was in short supply and people did what they had to do to survive.

Malcolm Moore wrote in the Telegraph: “Live animal shows and circuses are hugely popular in China, and draw around 150 million visitors a year at 700 zoos. However, animal rights campaigners have repeatedly complained that the shows should be stopped.” “A zoo in my city had a show where they forced an adult lion to stand on the back of a horse for a sort of animal acrobatic performance,” said Xiao Bing, the chairman of the local animal protection association in the southern city of Xiamen. “I also saw one entertainment park where the monkeys seemed to have wounds all over their bodies. The manager told me the monkeys got hurt during live monkey-fighting shows,” he said. Other cases of abuse include beating lions to make them jump through rings of fire and forcing bears to walk across tightropes, said Hua Ning, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Chinese circuses have defended their shows, saying that the animals are well fed and that teaching them tricks can help them become “stars”.[Source: Malcolm Moore, Telegraph, January 18 2011]

There is no law against cruelty to animals in China. Animal protection have been gradually improved in the 2020s after the Covid-19 pandemic led to crackdowns on activities where the hunting, trading or eating of wild animals could lead to disease. There is also a rising sentiments against animal cruelty and even keeping animals in zoos. “"Killing animals for consumption and treating them cruelly for entertainment are two different things," one person posted on Weibo after seeing the pig bungee jumping described below. "There is no need to torture them like this." After footage circulated online showing a "depressed" tiger walking in circles around a cage at a zoo in Beijing, Weibo users said they had "been there" to the zoo and some urged the return of wild animals to the "mountains and grasslands". [Source: BBC, 2020, 2021]

Paul McCartney Shuns China over Animal Cruelty

In 2005, Paul McCartney angrily denounced China and vowed never to perform there after seeing "horrific" undercover film of dogs and cats being brutalized and then killed for their fur. The Observer reported: “The former Beatle condemned images of the animals being killed in a fur market in Guangzhou. In the film, shot for the People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign group, dogs and cats are pictured being thrown from the top deck of a converted bus on to concrete pavements. The screaming animals, many with their paws now smashed from the fall, are then lifted up with long metal tongs and thrown over a two meter fence. Some are beaten by laughing workers. All are then killed and skinned for their fur. Many are believed still to be alive as their skins are peeled away. [Source: The Observer, November 28, 2005]

“McCartney looked aghast and close to tears as they watched the footage for a special report on BBC television's Six O'Clock News. "This is barbaric. Horrific," he said. "It's like something out of the Dark Ages. And they seem to get a kick out it. There's even a woman doing it. They're just sick, sick people. I wouldn't even dream of going over there to play, in the same way I wouldn't go to a country that supported apartheid. This is just disgusting. It's against every rule of humanity. I couldn't go there," he said. "I wouldn't go there while this goes on. If this is stopped, then it's a different affair," he added.

“In another piece of footage, shot last summer by an undercover investigator connected to PETA, cats are seen squirming inside a sack, which is then thrown into a vat of steaming water. They are boiled to death and skinned by a fleecing machine. Campaigners estimate that more than two million dogs and cats are killed for their fur in China every year. The rapidly expanding economic giant, which also farms animals such as mink for their fur, makes over half of the world's fur products.

Poor Treatment of Animals in China

left Hu Fayun wrote: Early last winter, my wife returned from the wet market and reported seeing a peddler selling two tiny monkeys; they were caged in a wire rattrap, curled up pitifully into little balls and huddled together to escape the cold. Each time my wife returned from the wet market she brought back a few of these heartrending stories: about a wounded muntjac deer with melancholy eyes; about a few small hedgehogs fighting fruitlessly to break free from a nylon net bag; about a row of brilliantly plumaged golden pheasant corpses; about a small squirrel struggling in the scorching sun for its final dying breath; about a clowder of cats crushed together and yowling piteously in chorus. There were also small squawking quail bouncing frenziedly in a basket, bare and bloody from being plucked featherless while alive. There were frogs, tortoises, soft-shelled turtles, and snakes—all of which, as recipes prescribe, had been skinned alive. There were also those docile and adorable pigeons, rabbits, and lambs. For these small creatures, every wet market is their Auschwitz concentration camp.[Source: "Old Fool: Elegy for a Monkey" by Hu Fayun, MCLC Resource Center, translated by Paul E. Festa, August 2017; For the complete article from which this much of the material here is derived see Old Fool: Elegy for a Monkey, MCLC Resource Center]

In 2013, tourists in a southern resort reportedly harassed a stranded dolphin and took photos with it rather than immediately call for help; the mammal later died. In the cold logging camps near Langxiang, rats and rat tails are displayed by rat poison salesmen as proof of the poison's effectiveness.[Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013]

For-profit zoos are the often the worst offenders. Chicks are sold at a petting zoo outside Beijing for children to feed to crocodiles. At the Harbin zoo, visitors can buy a rabbit for $12 or a pig for $120 and watch it be devoured by Siberian tigers. There are places where tigers are heavily sedated and tied to concrete slabs in such away that tourist can sit on their backs and have their photograph taken on them.Outside the Beijing Wildlife Park tourist can take a ride in a “mobile feeding cage” and throw $3.80-piece chickens to lions and tigers. The “mobile feeding cage” is a flat bed truck with a chain link fence around the bed. A sign in English outside the attraction reads: “Challenge!! Facing up to the beasts of prey in the feeder’s cage mobile. Do not throw in food self-bought.” [Source: Los Angeles Times]

A college student once poured a mixture of sulfuric acid and caustic soda on some rare species of bear at the Beijing Zoo. He said he did it to see whether “they really are stupid.” He had read that bear’s had an acute sense of smell and felt that this contradicted their reputation of being dumb animals. Putting the chemicals on the bears was his way of getting to the bottom of this contradiction.

In 2020, a Chinese theme park was forced to apologize for pushing a 75-kilogram (165-pound) pig off a platform in a "bungee jump" meant to entertain visitors. The animal was heard squealing in videos posted to social media as it plunged almost 67 meters (220 feet) from a platform at the park according to the BBC. The event occurred at the "Meixin Red Wine Town" in the Chongqing region of southwest China. The animal, with a purple cape around its neck, was brought onto the high platform tied to a pole by several employees before being attached to the bungee cord and pushed off in an event dubbed the "golden pig bungee jump". The pig survived the plunge but was slaughtered for food after the stunt, according to Chinese media. [Source: CBS News, January 20, 2020]

A polar bear named Pizza at the Grandview Mall Aquarium in Guangzhou was dubbed ‘world’s saddest polar bear’. The Guardian reported: “The three-year-old female bear become a focus of global attention since Hong Kong-based Animal Asia posted an online video of the bear lying on her side in a glass enclosure in Guangzhou. The Humane Society International called for the mall to be closed, saying footage of Pizza’s pacing and head-swaying behaviour were evidence of mental decline. The bear was eventually moved to a different zoo. [Source: The Guardian, November 14, 2016]

Poor Conditions at Chinese Zoos

David Neale, the director of the animal advocacy group Animals Asia, has spent 10 years visiting zoos and animals parks in China. In that time he has seen tigers with all their teeth removed, bears punched in the head by their trainers, animals whipped, beaten and prodded with metal hooks and hundreds of animals in filthy enclosures, where visitors taunt them and throw things at them and they have no place to escape the hot summer sun. “The condition are appalling,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s setting the bar at the lowest level.” [Source: Lily Kuo, Los Angeles Times, September 2010]

Neale told the Los Angeles Times he mostly visited major zoos and parks. Conditions are though to be even worse at hundreds of small zoos and parks that have limited funds. Kato Loeffler of the International Find for Animal Welfare, told the Los Angeles Times, “The scenario that Animals Asia described is unfortunately very typical. But to be honest, these are probably the best conditions there are for animals in China. There are many places that are smaller with less money, and the conditions there, we can only imagine what they are.”

The Animals Asia report was released following the deaths of two giant pandas in July 2010. One was accidently killed by poison gas at the Jinan Zoo in Shandong Province. The other died at the Beijing Zoo from an untreated intestinal complication that was ignored for 20 days. Four months before that 11 Amur tigers starved to death at the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in northeastern China. After these incidents the State Forestry Administration issues orders to zoos and parks to clean up their act but nothing was really done as there are no laws regarding captive animals in China to back up the orders.

Animal rights advocates also want to see an end to animal performances, which include bears riding bicycles, tigers leaping through flaming hoops and monkeys balancing on goats. The practice of allowing photos with orangutans at the Beijing Zoo was stopped when it was found some of the orangutans were drugged.

China, is home to more than 85 marine parks and related facilities. Many of the dolphins caught live rather than clubbed to death at the infamous Taiji dolphin hunt in Japan end up in China. The Washington Post reported: A live bottlenose, the easiest species to train, is worth between $8,000 and $10,000, and more than $40,000 after training, experts say. The live dolphins are mostly sent to China, where the marine park industry is booming and largely outside the international rulemaking that has turned its back on Taiji’s catch. China alone imported more than 200 live dolphins and whales from Japan in 2017 and 2018, trade data shows. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 14, 2019]

Hungry Tigers at Chinese Zoo Maul Each Other During SARS Slump

In May 2003, Elaine Kurtenbach of Associated Press wrote: “Hungry tigers and lions have been attacking each other at a Chinese zoo that says it can't afford to feed its animals because of a slump in visitors amid SARS fears. A 5-year-old lion was killed by three other lions and two tigers were injured in brawls with other tigers at the Xiamen Haicang Wild Animal Park in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen, said Liu Huichun, its general manager. "Hunger has made the animals irritable and they have returned to the laws of the jungle," Liu said. [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, Associated Press, May 27, 2003]

Zoos and other tourism-dependent businesses have been devastated by official efforts to contain SARS by discouraging Chinese from traveling. The public also is anxious about pets and zoo animals after reports the disease might have originated in wild animals. The number of visitors to the Xiamen park has fallen 98 percent from a daily average of 500 before the outbreak, forcing cuts in food for the animals, Liu said. The park has six Siberian tigers, 12 mature African lions and 10 lion cubs, according to the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily, which showed a tiger weakened by hunger languishing in its cage. A tiger or lion at the zoo usually eats a daily diet of 11 pounds of beef, two pounds of chicken bones, two live chickens, eggs and milk powder, Liu said.

These days, he said, the animals get 6 1/2 pounds of feed, chicken bones and no eggs or milk. Deer and goats are going hungry because of cutbacks in supplies of grass, he said. Zoo employees have been donating money and the Xiamen city government is trying to find ways to make up the shortages, Liu said. "Animals are national resources. Protecting them is always our priority," Liu said. "I'm worried that these animals will be in danger if this continues." The zoo already has spent $50,000 on disinfection and other anti-SARS measures, the newspaper China Daily said.

Researchers have found the SARS virus in civet cats, raccoon dogs, snakes and bats. Reflecting concern that animals might spread the virus, the southern province of Guangdong has tightened controls on breeding and handling wildlife. The Xiangjiang Wild Animal Zoo in Guangdong's provincial capital of Guangzhou said some traditional activities that allow people to get close to animals, such as taking photos with baby tigers, have been stopped. Food supplies were adequate, said an employee in the zoo's marketing department, who gave only his surname, Hua. "We can assure visitors that watching animals at a distance is still safe," Hua said.

Other zoos said they had not cut back on food for animals, despite economic losses. "Even if we don't eat, we would guarantee the animals have enough food to eat," said an official at the Wild Animal Park in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou who refused to give his name.

Chinese Zoo Worker Attacked by Seven Lions on His First Day of Work

In October 2005, the China Daily reported: “A cleaner, attacked by lions on his first day working at Shanghai Wildlife Park on Tuesday, is still critical, according to sources with Pudong Renji Hospital. Zhang Huabang is being treated in the hospital's intensive care unit for wounds to his face, shoulders and legs. He was attacked by up to seven lions on his first day as a cleaner at the zoo when he took a shortcut through their cage. "He is stable but I can't say he is totally out of danger," said a nurse who asked not to be named "He's very badly injured and received surgery to injuries all over his body." [Source: Xu Xiaomin, China Daily, October 14, 2005]

Before beginning work, Zhang, 34, from Sichuan Province, was reminded by a colleague to be careful because a river where they were working was very close to the animal enclosures, Shanghai Labour Daily reported. Returning after the noon break, Zhang saw a gate leading to one enclosure was not locked and entered it, hoping to take a shortcut, he said. The gate should have been locked; It leads into the lions' enclosure.

At least one lion leapt on him, sinking its claws into his body and mauling his legs. The exact number of lions involved in the mauling is unknown, as local media cited numbers between three and seven, while the park claimed just one. "Every part of my body hurt. I thought I was going to die," Zhang said.

An employee in a lookout post raised the alarm and a park jeep rushed to the scene. First squirting water to drive the animals back, the rescue crew then threw live chickens into the enclosure to distract them while Zhang was pulled into the jeep. He was taken to Pudong Renji Hospital and underwent emergency surgery.

Zhang's wife, Wang Runtao, said that the muscles in his legs were seriously damaged where he had been mauled down to the bone. "Up to now, no one has raised the issue of compensation," Shen Jianguo, a spokesman for the park told China Daily yesterday. "Actually, Zhang is not a regular employee. He belongs to a cleaning team and the park hired the team to clean the river." The park had already paid some of Zhang's medical fees, he added. According to Shen, the park is investigating the cause of the accident. "If the door wasn't locked as Zhang said, we should look for the person who bears responsibility for that," he added.

Chinese Zoo 'Tries to Pass Dog off as Wolf'

In March 2021, a zoo in central China was caught seemingly trying to pass off a dog as a wolf. The BBC reported: “Social media footage showed a visitor to the Xiangwushan Zoo in Xianning, Hubei province, visiting the zoo's wolf enclosure. He filmed an animal that looked like a Rottweiler lying on its side in a cage, and said to the animal: "Woof! Are you a wolf?" in a short video that has since gone viral.It has led to a lot of jokes online, but has also sparked debate about whether zoos are necessary in a post-Covid era, with many voicing concern about their maintenance. [Source: Kerry Allen, BBC, March 6, 2021]

Mr Xu, who filmed the footage, told Beijing News that he had asked staff at the park why there was a dog in the wolf's cage. He said he was told that there had been a wolf, but that it had "died of old age". An employee confirmed this to local media, and said that the dog, which had been raised as a watchdog by the park, was only being kept there temporarily. But as the news website notes, he did also hint that the zoo had been financially struggling, saying it "didn't have enough visitors to keep the zoo up and running well". “The park, which charges 15 yuan ($2.30; £1.70) and also keeps lions and tigers, has now been told by the local forestry bureau to remove the sign leading to the enclosure.

The incident has sparked a lot of discussion online. Many users on the popular Sina Weibo microblog say that it has given them a good laugh, although others say that they are "shocked" and that it actually makes them "a little sad". “At least get a husky," one Weibo user says, noting that the breed would at least look more similar to a wolf. Their post received more than 6,000 likes. Many users said they were relieved just to learn that the dog was not the wolf's dinner. Some are talking about their own experiences as kids of visiting "poorly run" zoos, saying that reality never quite meets up to expectation.

“There have been a number of well-publicised instances of zoos providing poor substitutes for wild animals.In 2019, similar video footage showed a domestic dog in a wolf enclosure at the Jiufengshan Forest Park in the nearby city of Wuhan. In 2017, a zoo in southern Guangxi promised penguins at its site, but visitors arrived to find inflatable ones. In 2013, a Tibetan mastiff was passed off as an African cat at a zoo in Henan. There have also been multiple cases overseas of donkeys being painted to look like zebras.

Animal Rights Movement in China

An animal rights movements has developed relatively quickly in the last few years in China. A few years there wasn’t a term for animal rights. Now groups like the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Center have come from nowhere and become surprisingly influential.The trend has been attributed to the increasing affluence of the Chinese. One activist told the Los Angeles Times, as people’s lifestyles have improved, they’ve become more and more sensitive towards animals. It becoming a universal value, like Western classical music.”

The government is trying to curb the practice of feeding live animals to wild beats at theme parks and the skinning alive of animals at restaurants and for the growing fur trade. In June 2009, China drafted its first law to protect animals from things such as abandonment and abuse with severe violators facing prison sentences.

“I believe China is going through a Chinese animal liberation movement, a bottom-up movement, gaining huge momentum in the past year, very much with the help of the Internet and Weibo, together with the younger generation growing up with cats and dogs as family pets,” Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia who studies animal rights law told the New York Times. [Source: Edward Wong, September 29, 2011]

The battle between China’s dog and cat eaters and its growing number of pet lovers is also seen as a conflict between rural people and the urbanites, between the poor and the rich. William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “For centuries, dog meat has been coveted for its fragrant and unique flavor; it is an especially popular dish in the winter, when it is believed to keep you warm. But pet ownership has skyrocketed in recent years as China’s booming economy produced a burgeoning middle class with both money and time for four-legged friends. And with the new pet stores, a once powerless animal rights movement is slowly gaining traction. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]

Ban on Animal Performances in China

In October 2010, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development announced a ban on animals performances in zoos and wildlife parks throughout China. Shanghaiist reported: “The ban comes after a scathing report by Hong-Kong based Animals Asia covering the "barbaric" abuse of animals in China's zoos, safari parks, and worst of all, circuses (you can see some pretty extensive video footage made by Animals Asia during their investigation here). The ban obviously doesn't extend to circus acts, but it's a move in the right direction for Chinese zoos, where we've witnessed their depressing overworked performance animals in the past.

The ministry also made a "list of suggestions" concerning animal treatment and the operation of animal parks in China. Better management and better health care for the animals topped the list, as well as a firm assertion that zoos should remain on the non-profit track. They also discouraged the consumption of park animals in zoo restaurants, an act the Beijing Zoo has been known to do in the past.

The performance ban sounds like good news, the first we've had in a year full of scandals involving lots of dead tigers and other endangered animals, filthy zoos, and super sad dog slaughterhouses

The ban went into effect in January 2011. “We are hopeful it will have an effect,” said David Neale, the Animal Welfare Director at Animals Asia. “I visited Chongqing zoo before Christmas and their circus was clearing out, and Kunming zoo has also said its circus has been closed.” [Source: Malcolm Moore, Telegraph, January 18 2011]

Other zoos, however, said they had received no notice of the new rules. “We will help police the ban and report any cases we find to the government,” vowed Mr Neale. The ban will also force zoos to stop selling animal parts in their shops and zoo restaurants will have to stop serving dishes made out of rare animals, another widespread practice. Similarly, zoos will no longer be able to pull the teeth of baby tigers so that tourists can hold them and will have to stop attractions where live chickens, goats, cows and even horses are sold to visitors who can then watch them be torn apart by big cats.

A spokesman for China’s State Forestry Bureau said a three-month investigation last year had uncovered more than 50 zoos where animals were suffering severely because of abuse. However, the closure of the shows could push some zoos towards bankruptcy and may leave many animals with an uncertain future. “In some cases, I am not sure where the animals will go,” said Mr Neale. “In some cases I would recommend euthanasia, since there are animals in a very bad way after a few years of being in these performances.”

Image Sources: 1) 2) beifan, 3) aapa

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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