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Public End Macabre Feeding at Wildlife Parks

Animal lovers in China have forced the end of the grisly spectacle of domestic animals being slowly eaten alive by tigers or lions at China's wildlife parks and zoos.
Most of China's 30-plus wildlife parks have signed an agreement to ban the practice.
The accord received a warm welcome from world animal welfare organizations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
"The move indicates that the Chinese public's welfare awareness is upgrading," Zhang Li, executive China representative of IFAW, told China Daily yesterday.
But while the accord signals a positive shift in attitudes, some believe only firm government action will outlaw the macabre feeding times for good.
Zhang said: "A law on animal welfare is badly needed in China to arouse more public concern."
He added: "China has laws to protect rare species of animals but without a specific animal welfare law, zoos will find ways to circumvent the agreement."
To solicit trade, some wildlife parks have promoted live shows some using video releases - of feeding live domestic animals such as cows and horses to tigers, lions and other big cats.
But as many of these once-wild beast have lost much of the savagery needed for the wild, their "prey" often suffer a bloody, long death lasting for hours.
It was such scenes that horrified some of the public and spurred them into action.
The Bifengxia Nature Reserve in Ya'an of southwest China's Sichuan Province was forced to stop sacrificing domestic animals after visitors launch strong protests.
"The gory eating habits could lead visitors to believe that animals, both the hunter and the hunted, are only human playthings," said Xie Youxin, deputy general manager of the Wild Animal World in Chengdu of Sichuan.
"The bloody scene could also implant violent tendencies in youngsters," Xie added.
Some wildlife parks argued they introduced the live feeding to let big cats in captivity learn survival skills so they can be returned to the wild.
But the IFAW's Zhang said such training needs a strict scientific project and not the simple practice of throwing live animals into a pen.
Twenty five major wildlife parks in the country signed the industry self-discipline agreement over the weekend in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province.
China's first wildlife park opened in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, in 1993.
But the early boom has turned sour with most parks in China mostly privately run now struggling.
Park owners are struggling to pay off their initial investment often more than 100 million yuan (US$12 million).
Unlike zoos in cities, most wildlife parks do not enjoy State subsidies.
The situation was exacerbated by the outbreak of SARS and bird flu in the last two years, which saw tourists numbers crash and the mass culling of wild birds inside park grounds.
However, the parks still serve a valuable education and entertainment when run according to public decency.
"Zoos and wildlife parks should play a good role in public education, popular science promotion and scientific research, and not solely concentrate on profits," the IFAW's Zhang said.

(China Daily March 17, 2005)


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