Rare tiger's death puts spotlight on poorly-funded C China zoo

2007-12-25 02:05:31 Xinhua English

YICHANG, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- Animals at Three Gorges Forest Wild Animal World, which has been brought under the spotlight because of a Siberian tiger that was beheaded and skinned in central China's Hubei Province, are on the verge of starvation because of a lack of funds.

Zoo keeper Wang Jianxiang told Xinhua there had been financial difficulty in providing enough food for the animals as well as poor health care.

"We can't afford to buy pork for the animals, so instead we feed them some chicken bones, beef liver and vegetables."

The zoo, a largely private venture based in the suburbs of Yichang City, opened in October 2002. It had originally attracted hordes of visitors in the first few months, according to Qin Maolin, a retiree who used to work at the zoo.

Qin said all the animals were provided by a bear and tiger propagation company based in Guilin, a scenic city in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

A number of the zoo's animals, however, died of hunger in 2003 when many parts of the country were hit by an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The subsequent number of visitors also dropped.

Since then, the zoo had never recovered.

Last Thursday morning, a female Siberian tiger, between six and seven years old, was found dead at the zoo with its head, legs and skin missing. Over the weekend, the remains of two baby tigers were also found in a refrigerator in the facility's ticket office.

Cao Guangyi of the Yichang Forestry Bureau, said that the Bengal tiger had experienced a difficult labor on Nov. 28 when the big cat gave birth to two dead cubs at the zoo. Workers then put the carcasses into the refrigerator to preserve them.

According to the national law on wildlife protection, zoos should get the approval of local authorities before disposing of the bodies of deceased wild animals. But the zoo keepers didn't report the deaths until the bureau started to investigate the matter on Saturday.

Cao said the zoo should have reported the deaths to the forestry bureau and then disposed of the bodies in accordance with the bureau's decision.

"The bureau has ordered the zoo to shape up its management and make the laws and regulations on wildlife protection better understood among its employees."

Siberian tigers, among the world's 10 most endangered species, mostly live in northeast China and the Russian Far East. Of the 400 estimated in the wild, only 10 to 17 live in China.

Under Chinese law, those who killed endangered and rare wild animals faced a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.

Forestry police were investigating the case involving the tiger's death.

Covering about 40 hectares, the zoo, some 14 kilometers from Yichang city center, is home to more than 100 species of wild animals. These included 15 tigers, five bears, six African lions, two wolves, 60 monkeys and some birds.

The facility had only five employees to conduct breeding, management and ticket sales.

"The zoo is losing money," said zoo keeper Wang. "This month, we have had only 20 visitors."