Zoos vow to stop using live prey at feeding time

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2005, 12:00am

Report saying practice had bad effect on visitors put reserves under pressure

Nature reserves and zoos have decided to end the practice of feeding live prey to wild animals, which is often used to attract visitors.

The agreement was reached at an industry meeting of representatives of 22 reserves and zoos nationwide, held on Saturday in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province.

The self-regulation is aimed at improving standards of animal protection and sparing onlookers from distress, they say.

Visitor numbers to reserves and zoos typically peak around feeding times, when live oxen, horses or poultry are often fed to animals, including lions and bears.

Handlers will now feed wild animals only with carcasses or pieces of meat, with any reserves or zoos that break the pledge being stripped of their operating licences.

Teachers and students from four Beijing universities conducted research into feeding sessions with live prey at 21 of the mainland's estimated 30 reserves and zoos.

They concluded that using live prey had a negative psychological impact on visitors.

'There are two kinds of feeding sessions. Visitors can buy small animals to feed to the beasts themselves,' said a report on the findings.

'And then some zoos will have a performance that involves letting a horse, ox, rabbit or chicken loose with a lion, tiger, leopard or bear,' it said.

The researchers cited an incident in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, involving a young zoo visitor.

'While a dying ox was twitching on the ground for 40 minutes after being bitten by more than 10 tigers, a crying child asked his mother, 'Why hasn't anyone tried to save it? Why is everyone ignoring it?'' the report said.

The meeting of reserve and zoo representatives was held in response to increasing public concern about animal welfare and international pressure to improve animal protection, according to Zhang Li, mainland representative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

'Such behaviour causes huge stress and obviously the death of the animals ... and watching them being savaged has a negative impact on most people, especially the younger members of the audience,' he told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

'The use of these animals for commercial purposes goes against the role of the parks and zoos, which is to educate the public.

'We welcome the passing of the industry agreement and hope animal welfare protection will also become enshrined in mainland law.'

Beijing is revising the 1988 Wild Animal Protection Law to add clauses about animal welfare, but it is not known when the amendment will be completed.

However, some of the reserve and zoo directors who ratified the agreement said the pledge would make it harder for them to survive.

'If we have no money, it'll be impossible for us to continue,' an unnamed park director was quoted by Yunnan media as saying.

'How can we talk about animal welfare when the livelihood of those in captivity is being threatened?'

All of the reserves and zoos that ratified the agreement have links to the state.