For animal welfare in China, more criticism is better than none

By Yang Huan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail CRI, August 9, 2016
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Questionable treatment of a polar bear housed by an aquarium in Guangzhou China has sparked outcry in recent days. It has become a headline in China, raising public awareness of the often neglected issue of animal welfare protection.

The story was first published by the Guardian, a world-renowned British daily newspaper. According to the story, a polar bear named Pizza is living a miserable life in the Grandview Aquarium, which is located inside a shopping mall in Guangzhou. Every day tourists flock to the aquarium, and crowd outside the confined room where Pizza lives. They tap on the glass trying to get Pizza to move around, so they can pose for a good picture, with this rarely-seen creature. Pizza, however, is often agitated, and moves languidly seemingly disturbed by the blinding flash of cameras. As such, Pizza was dubbed "the world's saddest polar bear".

It was reported that a Hong-Kong based animal welfare group discovered mistreatment of Pizza, and pressured the manager of the aquarium to release the polar bear. They have reportedly collected over 500,000 signatures so far, that could support their plea. Nevertheless, officials of the aquarium deny the claim that Pizza is poorly housed, and they have no intention of freeing Pizza. They have promised to improve the living conditions of Pizza, in the near future.

If animal rights activists hadn't been to the aquarium, the housing conditions in which Pizza is forced to live, would not have been spotlighted in China. If the Guardian and other international media had not covered the story, the name of this polar bear would never have been known to people globally.

If animals could think and behave as human beings, I imagine that many other ill-fated animals would expect to be visited and interviewed by animal rights campaigners and news media. For the benefit of voiceless animals, criticism and intervening forces are much-needed in China.

For many years China has had a poor reputation for wildlife protection. It is often accused of encouraging pouching across Africa and Asia, by turning a blind eye to domestic consumption of illegal ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns. Statistics used to show that China was the world's largest ivory consumer.

A number of wildlife experts, campaigners and celebrities such as British Prince William and Jackie Chan have joined hands, and keep calling for an end to the illegal trade of wildlife. Thanks to their consistent effort, public attitudes in China towards conservation and environmental protection are changing. Besides, the Chinese government is showing signs of getting much tougher on killing and trading wildlife.

In September 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Barack Obama signed an agreement to enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory. This agreement was hailed by the international community, as a significant step by China in its efforts to crack down on the bloody ivory market. It demonstrated the commitment of Chinese government to protect the well-being of animals, in order to sustain ecological development.

The decline of the consumption of shark fin soup in China is likewise credited to campaigns backed by celebrities, journalists and business leaders. The Christian Science Monitor, a national daily newspaper in the US, reported that Yao Ming's presence in the fight against eating shark fin soup, has aroused public sentiment against this ancient practice. More and more diners have stopped eating this kind of soup, and nationwide consumption has decreased by 50%-70% in the last two years.

Another example is the boycott of Yulin Dog Meat Festival. During the annual summer festival over 10,000 dogs are killed and eaten by festival-goers. Bloody torture and the killing of dogs openly, have become an attraction of the city to boost tourism. A long list of celebrities including many Hollywood stars, have continued to condemn the festival and demand a total ban of eating dog meat in China. Many animal rights activists have launched various campaigns to boycott the festival. Amid public uproar, the local government of Yulin has compromised, by imposing a ban on the open killing of dogs and advertising dog meat consumption in a direct way; though the festival was not completely banned.

Both wildlife protection and animal welfare deserve public scrutiny. China's legislation on animal welfare is still far off compared with some western countries, and therefore it is quite common to read news that animals are mistreated, and forced to live in dismal conditions. Some cases such as caging black bears for bile production have ignited public sentiment. Some cases are not well known, and the fate of animals is doomed to continue unless a chorus of outcry accumulates.

Criticism is a force of social development. Criticism itself will bring transition to a nation. It is a promising phenomenon that there will be more and more criticism surrounding environmental conservation and animal welfare protection in China. The reason behind this is simple. Only when problems surface can change occur. Being open-minded to criticism is the right way, leading to a better future for animals as well as human beings.

The author Yang Huan is a senior editor of China Radio International. She now works as the chief editor for CRIOnline.

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