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Siberian tigers "starved to death" in Chinese Zoo

Reports said 11 Siberian tigers starved to death having been fed nothing but chicken bones at a Chinese zoo.

By Alexa OlesenAssociated Press / March 13, 2010

Eleven rare Siberian tigers have died at a Chinese zoo. In this photo Siberian tigers put up a greeting gesture for visitors to a zoo in Fuzhou in southeast China's Fujian province

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Beijing

Eleven rare Siberian tigers have died at a wildlife park in a startling case that activists say hints at unsavory practices among some zoos and animal farms in China: They are overbreeding endangered animals in the hopes of making illicit profit on their carcasses.

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The deaths of the tigers occurred in the past three months at the zoo in China's frigid northeast, officials and state media said Friday.

Reports said the tigers starved to death, having been fed nothing but chicken bones, while a zoo manager said unspecified diseases killed the animals. Either way, the animals had been ill-kept and ill-fed.

IN PICTURES: Siberian Tigers

The Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo has struggled financially, even withholding pay from staff, said a woman in charge of corporate planning for the zoo who would only give her surname, Wang. The zoo had been up for auction for some time without any bidders, she said.

"You can do the math: one tiger eats 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of beef per day and there are at least 30 of them now, and there are lions, elephants and other animals too," Wang said. "The zoo has been taking money from the staffers' salaries to feed the animals."

The food bill for the tigers ran to about $1,320 (9,000 yuan) a day — nearly half the food allowance the zoo gets from the local government to care for all the animals, Wang said.

The deaths underscore conflicting signals in China's attempts to save its dwindling number of tigers. While extensive conservation efforts are under way, animal protection groups say zoos and wildlife parks may be deliberately breeding more animals than they can afford, hoping to sell off the carcasses onto a black market where tiger parts fetch a high price for use in traditional medicines and liquor.

"We've seen cases where tiger farms have steeped the bones from their deceased tigers in liquor to sell to visitors," said Hua Ning, project director for the China branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Other animal rights groups like the Washington, D.C.-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have documented stockpiled pelts and the sale of tiger wine at the Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain village in south China's Guangxi region.

Hua said she didn't have any specific information about illicit sales of tiger parts by the Shenyang zoo but she and other activists said Chinese tiger farms in particular were breeding too aggressively.

"Some of these farms are raising the tigers precisely because they hope that there will be some relaxation of the ban on tiger parts and they can sell the parts and derivatives," Hua said.

Tiger parts are still available on the black market as well, probably sourced from farms or zoos since there are so few wild tigers left in China, she said.

IN PICTURES: Siberian Tigers