Cruise ship urged to upgrade tiger's 'abysmal' quarters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 12:00am

Animal welfare groups have called for the accommodation of a Siberian white tiger to be upgraded to the same level of luxury enjoyed by other passengers on board the cruise ship SuperStar Leo.

The tiger, which features in a 45-minute magician's show together with a cougar, is destined to spend the next four months on board the StarCruises liner in sub-standard quarters reeking of urine and faeces.

Pauline Taylor, a veterinary surgeon who inspected the cats' accommodation yesterday, described it as abysmal.

'The quarters were very plain, with a wooden slatted floor and no toys or any stimulation for the cats at all. Ventilation was poor and there was a noticeable smell of stale urine,' said Dr Taylor, who is also deputy executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

'People on board the ship have luxury accommodation - it is up to StarCruises to provide equally good accommodation for the tiger,' she said.

The SPCA, together with representatives of the Asia Animal Foundation and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, were invited to inspect the tiger's quarters when concerns were raised about its welfare after a maiden performance on the ship last Saturday.

'The tiger has some form of chronic hip disease, which the trainer is aware of but, for the well-being of the tiger, says he can't treat until the animal is older,' said Dr Taylor.

She said the tiger was weak in the hind legs, but did not appear to be in any pain.

Guests on board the luxury cruise ship were allowed to pet the Siberian tiger during Saturday's show, but Dr Taylor said the trainer told her this was not part of the usual act.

StarCruises do not hold a licence to stage the show in Hong Kong, but the ship is permitted to hold it in international waters.

'The cats spend about an hour each day in the exercise areas - a small chlorinated pool and a basketball court. The rest of the time they are confined to smallish living quarters, which we feel do not meet the recognised standards in Australia or elsewhere,' said Dr Taylor.

However, she said the trainer did appear to have a good rapport with the large cats and made an effort to include an educational message in his show, rather than just use the cats as showpieces.

The concerns will be further discussed with StarCruises, which said they were 'in discussion with relevant departments to see whether extra measures are needed'.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF) estimates that three of a total of eight sub-species of tiger have become extinct in the last century, with the remainder considered to be critically endangered.

'The latest estimation is that there are only 70,000 to 75,000 wild tigers in the world - all confined to Asia,' said conservation manager Alex Yau. 'The latest survey results by WWF show approximately 437 to 506 Siberian tigers left in the wild.'