Our animals are not starving, insists director of Guangzhou Zoo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2006, 12:00am

Guangzhou Zoo has rejected visitors' complaints that it is maltreating its inhabitants, saying some animals looked starved because they had not adjusted to the climate and were not absorbing nutrition efficiently.

However, animal activists say that while the animals may not be starving, they are not being properly nourished and stimulated. Luz Rivero, an American teaching English in Guangzhou, has launched an effort to save the animals after visiting the zoo recently and finding an elephant 'clearly malnourished' that 'by its posture and the obvious begging for food looked more like a circus entertainer than a creature living in a simulated natural environment'.

'I am not blaming anyone. I am an animal lover. I want to do what I can to put these animals into a sanctuary,' she said.

Deputy zoo director Chen Honghan admitted that he had received complaints from visitors about how malnourished and dirty the animals looked, especially the big cats. But he denied the zoo was not taking good care of its animals. 'The African elephant is quite skinny and wrinkled, but that's only the outer appearance and not because of undernourishment ... the Manchurian tiger is from cooler climates and it has not adjusted well to the heat,' he said.

Mr Chen said the zoo fed its tigers about 8kg of beef six days a week and let them fast on Sunday to rest their digestive systems to simulate conditions in the wild.

Gail Cochrane, a veterinarian at Animals Asia, said that while she did not think the zoo would starve its animals, like all mainland zoos, it was probably not feeding them a proper diet.

'Even if they are fed 8kg of beef, large cats need whole prey which include the bones and fur,' Dr Cochrane said. 'In western countries, zoos add a special supplement to the meat.'

She said mainland zoos were unwilling to buy the vitamin and mineral supplement that were expensive and not available locally.

Guangzhou Zoo, which is 48 years old, sprawls over a beautiful 45-hectare park in the heart of the city. It attracts 3 million visitors a year. Mr Chen said that while it managed to break even, the zoo did not have much money to upgrade the animal enclosures, which would require an investment of up to 55 million yuan.