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October 27, 2010

Chinese Government Says No to Animal Performances in Zoos

HSI, Chinese animal protection community welcome news

Humane Society International

  • This is a major step toward improving life for animals in Chinese zoos. Kristian Sekulic/istock

by Peter Li

On October 26, 2010, the Chinese government issued a major directive to zoos across the country: Stop all animal performances. This belated and much-anticipated decision was an instant hit, and already has elicited overwhelming positive response from the Chinese animal protection community and international press corps in Beijing.

News of this positive step taken by the Chinese national government ministry in charge of urban zoos reached Humane Society International in a matter of hours of the directive’s public announcement.

The directive—a result of years of pressure from Chinese and international animal protection communities, including HSI—targets some of the worst practices undercutting the welfare of zoo animals. It reaffirms the ministry's view of the non-profit, public education, wildlife conservation, and moral development roles of urban zoological gardens, and it deplores the one-sided, profit-seeking tendency of some local governments and zoos in recent years. The latter, the directive points out, has led to unbridled exploitation of wildlife in the form of animal performance and sales of animal products, a decline in the quality of zoo management practices, abnormal deaths of animals, injuries to visitors, and adverse social impact.

“Acts and practices that go against the non-profit orientation of zoological gardens must be banned resolutely,” the directive states unequivocally. Furthermore, the directive calls for zoos to improve conditions so that zoo animals are free from hunger, thirst, harassment, physical and mental illnesses.

HSI has long been examining zoo animal welfare problems on the Chinese mainland. In an effort to address overwhelming constituent concern and to effectively improve the lives of China’s zoo animals, we’ve forged a working relationship with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG).

HSI President and CEO Dr. Andrew Rowan established the vital partnership with the association, resulting in HSI’s participation in the Zoo Directors’ Workshop and a Science Committee Conference hosted by CAZG this summer. HSI sent five Western experts to address the Chinese zoo managers and officials on the importance of welfare considerations in enclosure design, zoos’ public image, animal keeping, zoo management, and veterinary care.

In the many closed-door meetings and communications between CAZG officials and HSI staff, animal performance and sales of wildlife products inside Chinese zoos were topics of discussion. Our opposition to animal performance is clear and unambiguous.

This milestone decision by the Chinese government is a great outcome and it reinforces the importance of our working relationship with CAZG and China’s captive animal institutions. HSI is proud to be part of the positive change in China, and this latest progress in advancing animal welfare serves to strengthen our determination to remain vigorously engaged there.

Read HSI's letters of congratulation (Chinese) to CAZG [PDF] and Minister Jiang [PDF] of the Ministry of Housing and Urban and Rural Development

Dr. Peter Li is China Specialist for HSI.