Published November 17, 2014
BEIJING (AP) — Performing animals in Chinese zoos and parks are often trained using abusive practices, including routine beatings, and are housed in inadequate shelters, according to a report by a Hong Kong-based animal welfare group released Monday.
Bears are regularly whipped and beaten with sticks, elephants are prodded with metal hooks, and tigers and lions are defanged and declawed, causing them chronic pain, said the Animals Asia Foundation in a 28-page report.
The group surveyed animal performances and living conditions at 13 zoos and safari parks in China over a yearlong period until this August.
"The combined aspects of performances, abusive training methods and inadequate housing conditions are causing severe animal suffering for many thousands of performing animals across China," the report said.
Earlier this year, the problem of animal mistreatment in China was highlighted with the reported deaths of 11 rare Siberian tigers at the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in the frigid northeast over a three-month period. The tigers had reportedly starved to death after being fed nothing but chicken bones for weeks.
Last month, the State Forestry Administration ordered a crackdown against operations that mistreated wild animals for performance purposes.
The order criticized animal parks for being "obsessed about financial profits while not paying enough attention to protective measures. Illegitimate methods are taken in treating wild animals ... This not only brings potential risk to the endangered wild species and the public health, but also tarnishes China's role and reputation in protecting wild animals."
The Animals Asia Foundation said black bears are the most popular animal performers, typically forced to ride bicycles, tricycles, and even horses. They were required to balance on balls, perform acrobatics, and even 'box' each other. The bears were regularly whipped or beaten with sticks by their trainers, it said.
"All of the performances observed were based upon fear and intimidation. To force animals to perform unnatural tricks, circus showmen frequently engage in negative reinforcement, whipping and striking the animals repeatedly," the report said.
Lions and tigers, which were forced to jump through burning hoops, had all their teeth removed for security reasons. That caused caused severe pain since it exposed nerve endings in their mouth and gums. Elephants were prodded with metals hooks to perform tricks like kneeling on their front legs and stepping over people.
The report said animals are often housed in cramped concrete enclosures or cages, sometimes with no visible access to water. Some showed physical signs of being underfed, ill, or beaten.
"Animal performances portray the animal to the public in a humiliating way that does not promote empathy and respect. There is little educational value in seeing animals in conditions that do not resemble their natural habitat," said David Neale, the group's animal welfare director.