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”.
However, the Chinese government has now issued a total ban, which came into force on Tuesday across the 300 state-owned zoos which are part of the China Zoo Association.
“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.”
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.”
If the above is true, it is a huge step forward for big cats in China. The International Tiger Coalition, of which Big Cat Rescue is a member, will continue to research this claim and will keep you posted.