But while the world savours the flags, fireworks and colourful choreography at Beijing’s National Stadium, captive wild animals across China will be silently suffering as they suffer day in, day out, in some of the most horrific zoos on earth.
One Voice sent a team of specialist investigators to eight zoos. What they saw and filmed there reduced these experienced professionals to tears.
China’s zoos are relics from a longdead era of grotesque menageries, places where wild animals are humiliated, abused and cruelly treated for public pleasure. These often old and decaying places are animal prisons in which the pitiful inmates behave psychotically because of their barren incarceration. Alarmingly they are places where visiting families callously mock and taunt the already traumatised animals. In some, the bloodlust of the Roman amphitheatre is perpetuated : live farm animals are thrown to the big cats to be torn apart for visitor entertainment.
In China, zoo or any other captive or companion animals have no protection whatsoever in law, yet this is the country determined to use its Olympic Games to show it is the forward thinking, economic powerhouse of the 21st Century. It is a nation whose zoos are still in the Dark Ages, as this report graphically shows.
A cruel game :
Visitors taunt the big cats at Bedaling Safari Park with live chickens tied to poles : this one endured five minutes of terror before being caught and eaten alive.
© One Voice / Eco Storm
The conditions most animals endure at these zoos are disturbing. The norm is a bare concrete floored cell or cage scattered with faeces and food remnants. Some of these had no freely available drinking water when we visited. Most alarming of all is the inadequate size of these animal prisons.
Big cats in cells five paces wide ; a twometre hippo in a bleak enclosure just twice its length ; a leopard cub in a bedsized cell ; a monkey chained by its neck in a wheeled cage just two metres by one, shrinking from the blazing sun in a vain attempt to find shade… Around each corner lies a new heartbreak. Worse, many animals are housed singly, denied even the comfort of their own kind to mitigate the privations of their existence.
Beijing Zoo, a place filled with inadequate housing, typifies the lack of thought in providing conditions that meet animals’ needs. Here, Asiatic and moon bears were living in a desolate bear pit, enduring continual noise from construction work on an overland metro railway : astonishingly, it passes directly over their compound.
|Pacing out the endless days : Like many big cats in Chinese zoos, this lion at Beijing Zoo resorts to stereotyped pacing to try to dull the monotony of existence in a tiny, barren tiny enclosure. |
© One Voice / Eco Storm
Captive animals that are inadequately housed or lack stimulation can sometimes resort to repetitive, apparently pointless behaviour in an attempt to numb themselves to their predicament. This“stereotyped behaviour” is a key indicator of poor welfare : China’s zoos are a virtual text book for it.
An alarming proportion of animals at the zoos we visited were displaying stereotyped behaviour, often to an extreme degree. Animals from big cats to monkeys and bears paced relentlessly, some repeatedly licking the walls, others swinging their heads dementedly side to side. We saw animal after animal busily going nowhere in this psychotic fashion.
At Zibo Zoo we saw 20 squirrelsjumping over each other in an endless, stylised frenzy : their cage measured just two metres by one. Nearby in the worst big cat conditions we found at any zoo panthers, leopards andjaguars continually paced out their wretched days in cellsjust three by four metres. It wasn’t just lack of space that tormented them : a noisy children’s playground was nearby, generating an endless cacophany of synthesised music and explosions.
The behaviour of large numbers of zoo visitors towards these pitiful animals is arguably the single most disturbing feature of China’s menageries. Many, including families with children, treat the animals simply as objects of derision. Apparently oblivious to the creatures’ misery they shout, growl and whistle at them, they rattle and kick the bars to provoke reactions, they laugh and jeer.
No life for a bear : Moon bears at Chonqing Safari Park are forced to box each other during its “Animal Olympics”, a cruel and demeaning parody of the real Games.
© One Voice / Eco Storm
At Zibo Zoo, our team was sickened to see visitors spitting at wolves that were incarcerated in tiny cells without even water to drink. They also saw a laughing family provoking two neurotic Pekinese dogs to bite their shoes by kicking the bars of their bleak enclosure.
Worse followed at Bedaling Safari Park. As well as feeding live chickens to the big cats, visiting families can also buy them to tie to bamboo poles by the feet and dangle over a pitstyle lion enclosure. Our investigators watched visitors tease the big cats with the terrified birds until these were caught and eaten alive watched all the while by crowds of cooing and laughing adults and children.
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