Is the Shanghai Zoo worth a visit
Chinese zoo feeds live donkeys to tigers
A video captured in a Chinese zoo shows a live donkey being fed to tigers in front of the public. The incident has raised concerns about animal welfare at the facility and in Chinese zoos in general.
In the video that went viral on the Internet, a group of men in raincoats push the donkey down a wooden ramp. He ends up in a moat in which the tigers pounce on him. The video was reportedly recorded by a visitor to the Yancheng Safari Park outside Shanghai. It later shows the donkey kicking around underwater.
The video only documents the beginning of the ordeal. According to the South China Morning Post, the donkey only died after half an hour.
According to a (Chinese) announcement from the zoo, disgruntled shareholders were behind the incident. Angry about not getting financial returns from the zoo, shareholders had a group of men capture some of the animals - including a donkey - that they wanted to sell to people outside the facility. After they were stopped by security forces, the men decided to push the donkey into the tiger enclosure to at least "save on feeding costs," a shareholder told the Guardian.
"It's a terribly sad video because everyone suffers in it, whether it's the donkey, the tiger, or the visitors watching," says Doug Cress. He is the executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The board accredits zoos but has no affiliation with Yancheng Safari Park.
Cress says an incident like this should never have happened. “If the zoo had had adequate barriers between people and the enclosures, firstly you wouldn't have gotten the animals out of the enclosures and, secondly, you couldn't have thrown them into the tiger enclosure. So the barriers and security measures at this zoo are clearly ineffective. "
At the time of going to press, the zoo had not responded to National Geographic's request for comment.
The incident is only the latest in a series of disturbing events in Chinese zoos. Many of them owe their bad reputation to their lack of animal welfare standards. According to Cress, China's new wealth has fueled a boom in the zoo and aquarium business over the past 20 years. However, respect for the animals and an understanding of the best methods for animal welfare lag behind.
There is evidence that zoo visitors have already thrown stones and rubbish at animals. Sometimes animals are also forced to perform tricks in front of the visitors. Such activities are criticized as abuse of animals by respected accreditation bodies.
Dave Neale is the Animal Welfare Director for Animals Asia, a nonprofit based in Hong Kong. He says he is appalled by the incident at Yancheng Safari Park - but not surprised. When he visited the zoo in the past, visitors could pay to throw live ducks and chickens into the tigers and lions' enclosures for entertainment.
In other institutions, he has also seen occasional sheep, goats, pigs and cows being offered for feeding to the predators. "If someone pays enough money, some parks do anything," he says. "That undermines the educational value of a zoo - I don't see any educational value in something like that."
Neale says that most of the atrocities take place in non-urban safari parks that are not overseen by China's State Forest Service. Zoos like those in Beijing or Shanghai are run by city authorities and focus more on conservation than entertainment.
Yancheng Safari Park has been accredited by the Chinese Society of Zoological Gardens. Neale said the organization has good intentions but lacks the resources to enforce strict animal welfare standards among its members. The company has not yet responded to National Geographic's inquiries about whether they plan to take action in response to the donkey incident.
In addition to the inadequate barriers, the incident highlighted another problem, says Cress: zoo tigers are simply not meant to eat live animals. In the wild, tigers kill a wide variety of prey - from deer to water buffalo to the occasional livestock. However, upright zoos feed their tigers beef and horse meat and not live, breathing animals.
“It wasn't hunger that drove these two tigers, it was curiosity,” says Cress. "They don't seem to have any idea how to kill such an animal and what to do with it."
Even when the tigers attack the donkey in the video, they hardly show the clinical precision that is known from nature documentaries. In the wild, a tiger sneaks up on its victim and can kill it within minutes by pinching its air around its neck.
Also, Cress adds, a lack of predatory instincts could harm the tigers if, for example, a horned animal is thrown into their enclosure.
"The safety of animals and humans should be the top priority," says Neale, "so the zoo is definitely responsible, even if it was hopefully a one-off incident."
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