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June 23, 2010

Improving the Lot of Animals in Chinese Zoos

Humane Society International

  • Deserving of a better life. Teresa Telecky/HSI

by Peter Li

The suffering of animals in Chinese zoos has long attracted international attention. Recent stories of 11 tigers who reportedly starved to death in a safari park in northeast China’s Shenyang, the discovery of a secret burial site containing the carcasses of hundreds of zoo animals, and the practice of live feeding are huge concerns to animal protection communities inside China and overseas. In the words of a Hong Kong investigator, conditions in mainland Chinese zoos are at least 50 years behind those in the industrialized world.

Working together

HSI's position on zoos, aquaria and other wildlife captive facilities is that ideally, wild animals should be permitted to exist undisturbed in their natural environments. However, with the understanding that zoos will not disappear in the foreseeable future, HSI has developed a working relationship with China Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG), the official agency under the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction, with the aim of improving the situation for animals in Chinese zoos. A workshop for zoo directors, held on June 7-10, 2010, signified the start of a collaborative effort between HSI and CAZG.

Learning from experts

HSI assisted CAZG in bringing two Western speakers to the workshop. Bob Ramin, executive director of the National Aquarium in Washington DC, introduced Western marketing strategies and practices to the audience. The message from the presentation was that marketing strategies have no place for ethically questionable practices such as live feeding. Dr. Heather Bacon, chief veterinarian of Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation, gave a presentation on welfare considerations in zoo enclosure design. By referencing the “five freedoms” principle, Dr. Bacon showcased examples of acceptable and unacceptable enclosure designs. Her presentation elicited great interest among the audience. Afterward, a zoo director from South China invited Dr. Bacon to assist with their remodeling project.

Other experts from the U.S. and Australia also gave impressive presentations on zoo management training and the role of zoos in conservation.

Off to a good start

This workshop was the first of HSI’s collaborative projects with CAZG for this year. In August, HSI will send three more Western experts on the latest zoo animal care to a CAZG annual conference. It is our hope that exchanges like this will help facilitate improvements in Chinese zoo animal welfare and zoo management.

Dr. Peter Li is HSI's China Specialist.