Deaths of 20 Siberian tigers at east China zoo being investigated

The deaths of 20 Siberian tigers, which are under China’s top-class state protection, in a zoo in Fuyang City of east China’s Anhui Province have not only prompted a multi-department investigation into the cause of the animals’ demise over the past five years but also raised concerns on the conditions of private zoos across the country.

Siberian tigers are under first-class state protection in China. /CFP

Siberian tigers are under first-class state protection in China. /CFP

On Tuesday, a video of tiger corpses wrapped in nylon bags in Fuyang Safari Park was published by the official account of Dahe Daily, a newspaper based in central China’s Zhengzhou City, on Chinese social media site Weibo, which garnered over 1.2 million views.

The incident was listed as one of the hottest social topics on video-sharing platform Douyin on Wednesday, with viewers questioning why such incidents could happen to one of the most protected wildlife species in the country.

Reports show that in 2018, the park tried to buy a batch of animals from a company, including 33 Siberian tigers, five African lions and 11 black bears. However, the deal was called off as the company was not licensed by the local forestry department to sell animals.

The park, instead, rented the animals. But since then, 20 Siberian tigers, two African lions, and three giraffes have died.

In addition, only one out of the 11 tiger cubs born in the park in the past five years has survived, according to Yin Jianwei, head of the forestry department in Fuyang City’s Yingdong District where the park is located.

The death rate has been deemed very unusual by animal experts. 

In comparison, Zhu Yugang, founder of Sanzhen Tiger Park in central China’s Hunan Province, said the survival rate of newborns in his park is over 95 percent.

Earlier reports by China’s Forestry and Grassland Administration show the survival rate of Siberian tiger newborns in the wild has climbed to nearly 50 percent.

On the other hand, questions have been raised on whether the park has the proper license and, if not, how it has managed to remain open to the public and breed tigers for the last five years.

Chinese media Caixin reports that in 2018, the application from the company that leased the animals to the park to breed terrestrial wild animals was rejected by the local forestry department due to the lack of supporting facilities. The decision has rendered the park’s breeding activities illegal.

Yin, the head of the forestry department, said that his department has issued five notifications ordering the park to rectify its conditions, venues, caretakers training, etc.

“Did the local authorities really play their role in supervising? Did they really go there and inspect the park? If an unlicensed park can run for such a long time, it means there’s a management problem,” said Yang Yi, an animal breeder at Beijing Zoo and a well-known zoo expert who has over 300,000 followers on Weibo.

The incident has also cast doubt on the well-being of animals in zoos across China, especially private ones.

Experts have also pointed out the lack of legal protection for zoo animals, calling for an animal welfare law.

“At this moment, we can only condemn such incidents and call for action, because there is no law ensuring the well-being of zoo animals,” Yang told CGTN.

“China’s wildlife protection law only applies to wild animals that live in natural conditions, not captive zoo animals.”

The park was closed on Monday saying that due to the hot weather, parts of the park needed renovation. A notice by the park shows it will open again on Thursday.

CGTN called the park’s service center multiple times on Wednesday, but it went unanswered.

(Cover image via CFP)