By Peter Sharp,
Updated: 17:57, Tuesday May 22, 2007
China’s zoos have been described as “insane asylums for animals” and a national disgrace, where live domestic pets are fed to lions and tigers for the entertainment of visitors.
Animal rights activists have told Sky News that in 10 years of monitoring animals’ living conditions there has been “no improvement”.
Campaigner Dr John Wederburn said: “I come back to the same zoo four or five years later and the same animals are still trapped in the same tiny cage.
“It’s called zoo-chosis. The animals are simply driven out of their minds by the boredom.”
Stage shows, in which bears are trained to twirl sticks of fire and ride motorcycles, came in for particular criticism.
At one zoo, a three-year-old bear was put in a dress and a harness to pull a car twice a day in front of the holiday crowds.
Meanwhile, a trip round the Harbin Wildlife Park in Northern China ends with a gruesome spectacle.
The world’s biggest breeding centre for Siberian tigers encourages visitors to buy domestic animals that will be fed live to the tigers.
Special vending flaps are fitted on the tourist buses to allow visitors to feed chickens to the waiting tigers.
A live chicken can be purchased for £2.60, while a cow costs £100.
The authorities at the park say the tigers are being trained to be released back into the wild and argue that the fees charged for the live animals are used to support the park.
But Dr Wederburn has described the practice as “medieval”, while the World Society for the Protection of Animals also condemned it.
Virginia McKenna, of the wildlife charity Born Free, said: “With the Olympic Games just a year away, China has a short window of opportunity to tackle these issues.
“(It) faces the very real possibility that many of the millions of sports enthusiasts will return not with memories of the Olympic spectacle, nor of China’s undoubted ancient civilisation and culture… but of the animal welfare horrors that still go on, causing such suffering, and offending us all.”