Chinese zoos and safari parks treat their animals "barbarically," including abusing them to perform tricks and depriving them of proper food and shelter, an animal welfare group said.
Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation said its investigation of 13 Chinese zoos and safari parks between September 2009 and August 2010 uncovered evidence of animals being beaten with sticks and metal hooks as well as tigers and lions with their teeth and claws removed, causing chronic pain.
The group's 28-page report documents "the barbaric treatment of animals and the poor living conditions they are forced to endure."
"A large number of captive animal establishments in China provide animal performances as a form of entertainment for visitors. The techniques used to force such animals to perform tricks are cruel and abusive," said the report released Monday.
"Showmen frequently engage in negative reinforcement, whipping and striking the animals repeatedly, forcing them to carry out tricks that go against their natural behaviour."
The group said its probe also uncovered evidence of animals housed in "small, barren, concrete enclosures often in darkened rooms at the back of the performance areas away from the visitors."
"The living conditions for performing animals fail to meet their basic welfare needs. Many of the animals have no visible access to water," it said.
The report features photographs of bears being forced to "box" each other and ride motorcycles along a highwire, tigers prodded into jumping through flaming hoops, and elephants "performing uncomfortable and humiliating tricks such as standing on their heads, and spinning on one leg."
"There is little educational value in seeing animals in conditions that do not resemble their natural habitat," David Neale, the group's animal welfare director, said in a statement.
"Teaching animals to perform inappropriate tricks does nothing to educate the public or foster respect for animals."
The report called on China to ban the use of wild animals in circus-style performances, prohibit the feeding of live prey to larger animals, and usher in a licensing system for zoos and safari parks.
China has been plagued by a series of scandals that has thrown the spotlight on poor conditions in many of the nation's wildlife parks, prompting Beijing to draft the country's first animal-protection law.
In recent months, 11 endangered Siberian tigers starved to death at a cash-strapped park in the northeastern province of Liaoning where they were fed chicken bones, and two others were shot after they mauled a worker.
Allegations that the zoo had harvested parts of the dead animals to make lucrative virility tonics caused an outcry, even in a nation where illegal trade in animal parts thrives due to their perceived medicinal benefits.
In northeastern Heilongjiang province, authorities also uncovered a mass grave of animals - including lions, tigers and leopards - that died of illness and malnutrition at a wildlife park, state media reported in March.
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