But advocates of scheme argue shooting would motivate people to protect animals A controversial auction that would have allowed foreign hunters to bag wild animals, including some protected species, has been indefinitely postponed after a public outcry, state media said yesterday. The auction, originally scheduled for tomorrow, would have allowed four mainland agents to bid for permits to hunt 289 individual animals, including Tibetan antelopes. The rights would then have been sold to foreign firms and individuals. The auction plan prompted a debate among conservationists, while nationalists said the sale should not be closed to mainlanders or foreigners be allowed to take away a valuable resource. 'The response from the public is beyond our expectations,' State Forestry Administration spokesman Cao Qingyao said. 'The auction will be held in a proper way after soliciting suggestions from the public.' Despite the postponement, administration officials defended the auction. Wang Wei, deputy head of the administration's animal protection section, said hunting within strict controls would not destroy animal resources. Instead, it would create value for the local economy and motivate local people to protect animals. He also said the mainland had been allowing such hunts for two decades, but the government had previously used 'internal administrative approval' instead of auctions to award licences. By the end of last year, the mainland had earned US$36 million by granting 1,101 foreign nationals permission to hunt. 'The auction income has mainly been used as subsidies for local residents and expenses for better protection,' Mr Wang said. He said the revenue made local governments and residents aware of the value of their animal resources and encouraged more efforts towards protection. It also discouraged residents from killing animals for meat because they linked protecting animals with their own interests. 'If you go to these hunting destinations and have a look, you will find the more you hunt, the more the animals,' Mr Wang said. In comments posted on the internet, some said the mainland would lose valuable animals in the pursuit of profit. 'It is incredible that the government wants to make money by auctioning wild animals when they are on the edge of extinction,' one person said. But Mr Wang said management was strict. The government has developed 25 hunting sites for foreign nationals in underdeveloped western provinces and regions, such as Sichuan , Gansu and Qinghai. Hunters are only allowed to shoot old, male animals. The government auction for this year had included three kinds of animals under first-class protection: the takin, the white-lipped deer and the Tibetan antelope, as well as 11 kinds of animals under second-class protection.