They used to chew their way through 15 kilograms of beef at each meal, but the tigers at Shenyang Glacier Zoological Paradise have had to make do with leaner fare recently.
Due to a sharp drop in revenue, the zoo closed on November 1, and since then funds have fallen so low that keepers have resorted to feeding the zoo's ducks and geese to the big cats.
"Revenue decreased by 50 per cent compared to last year. We can't run the zoo with so few visitors," said zoo boss Wu Xi.
Staff have been told to stay home and are still waiting to hear whether they will get their jobs back.
But while staff can find new jobs, the thousands of animals have fewer options Wu said the zoo could only cover their food costs for one more week.
In order to save money, ducks and geese which once entertained visitors are now used to feed lions and tigers.
The poultry supply is strictly limited with a tiger getting two chickens for dinner. According to tiger feeder Zhang Mingyuan their normal dinner used to be 15 kilograms of fresh beef.
"We have no choice but to sacrifice the birds to save our big animals," said Zhang.
There are a total of 44 Siberian tigers at the zoo, usually consuming 500 kilograms of meat every day.
On the other hand, life's not much better for the vegetarians. The hungry elephants have been smashing their bodies against the walls to protest the reduction in their daily meals.
"I have worked at the zoo for 16 years and have a real connection with them," said Wu. "When I see them suffering, I suffer too."
Wu said it cost around 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) a day to feed the animals. If the zoo cannot find the money they face starvation and death.
Meanwhile, with the chilly northeastern winter edging closer, the temperature in Shenyang is getting lower by the day.
Yet only the elephant and giraffe rooms have heating systems, according to Tan Guiqin, manger of the animal care department.
"Providing food and heating is a life or death issue for the animals they are in great danger," said Tan.
The local wildlife protection office and three other animal welfare organizations formed an aid team to help the zoo last Monday.
The office has also started an emergency fund to help provide food for the animals, according to spokesman Liu Xiaoqiang.
"We will keep working on this until the animals' safety is assured," he promised.
Local citizens have also begun to take action. Yu Lin, manger of a local travel agency, provided a ton of apples for the zoo.
"I'm just doing what I can to help the animals and I hope they manage to survive this," said Yu.
Dozens more citizens have come to the zoo to donate food and money.
"It is us who have locked them in cages, so we have the duty to feed them," said Luo Juan, a senior manager at a local entertainment company who bought hundreds of boxes of bananas for the monkeys and elephants.
The zoo, founded in 2000, is a national level wild animal zoo. It is home to more than 2,000 animals, covering over 100 species.
(China Daily November 8, 2006)