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Bears, big cats routinely suffer in Chinese zoos and wildlife parks, animal welfare group says

BEIJING — Performing animals in Chinese zoos and parks are often trained using abusive practices, including routine beatings, and are housed in inadequate shelters, according to a report by a Hong Kong-based animal welfare group released Monday.

Bears are regularly whipped and beaten with sticks, elephants are prodded with metal hooks, and tigers and lions are defanged and declawed, causing them chronic pain, said the Animals Asia Foundation in a 28-page report.

The group surveyed animal performances and living conditions at 13 zoos and safari parks in China over a yearlong period until this August.

"The combined aspects of performances, abusive training methods and inadequate housing conditions are causing severe animal suffering for many thousands of performing animals across China," the report said.

Earlier this year, the problem of animal mistreatment in China was highlighted with the reported deaths of 11 rare Siberian tigers at the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in the frigid northeast over a three-month period. The tigers had reportedly starved to death after being fed nothing but chicken bones for weeks.

Last month, the State Forestry Administration ordered a crackdown against operations that mistreated wild animals for performance purposes.

The order criticized animal parks for being "obsessed about financial profits while not paying enough attention to protective measures. Illegitimate methods are taken in treating wild animals ... This not only brings potential risk to the endangered wild species and the public health, but also tarnishes China's role and reputation in protecting wild animals."

The Animals Asia Foundation said black bears are the most popular animal performers, typically forced to ride bicycles, tricycles, and even horses. They were required to balance on balls, perform acrobatics, and even 'box' each other. The bears were regularly whipped or beaten with sticks by their trainers, it said.

"All of the performances observed were based upon fear and intimidation. To force animals to perform unnatural tricks, circus showmen frequently engage in negative reinforcement, whipping and striking the animals repeatedly," the report said.

Lions and tigers, which were forced to jump through burning hoops, had all their teeth removed for security reasons. That caused caused severe pain since it exposed nerve endings in their mouths and gums. Elephants were prodded with metals hooks to perform tricks like kneeling on their front legs and stepping over people.

The report said animals are often housed in cramped concrete enclosures or cages, sometimes with no visible access to water. Some showed physical signs of being underfed, ill or beaten.

"Animal performances portray the animal to the public in a humiliating way that does not promote empathy and respect. There is little educational value in seeing animals in conditions that do not resemble their natural habitat," said David Neale, the group's animal welfare director.

Animal rights activists to stage protest of Ringling Bros. circus outside Staples Center
When Bolivian circus-animal ban goes into effect, where will the animals go?

-- Associated Press

Video: Bears perform at Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village in China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Credit: Animals Asia Foundation via YouTube

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The U.S. is not much better. ALL circus animals spend a significant amount of their life denying their natural insticts, with little mental enrichment or physcial exercise. They spend a large amount of time in cages when they aren't being forced to perform "on demand". And if you've ever wondered how an elephant learned to stand on it's head - don't kid yourself and think it's through positive reinforcement. These animals are beaten and their spirits are broken to get them to do those stupid, mundane tricks. Watching an amazing animal jump rope or stand on it's head is pathetic and humiliating to the animal. I much rather these amazing creatures be living in the wild as they were intended. These circuses are just about MONEY!!!! And until people stop paying money to see the abuse, the abuse will never stop! EDUCATE YOURSELVES - WWW.CIRCUSES.COM

What an important article this is! I'm so glad to see the LA TIMES reporting this! It is true that amercian circuses also train and maitain the animals in a degrating, in humane manner. I love the quote by Mr. Neale in the last paragraph. And I do hope that it is sooner, rather than later - that circus goers realize the abuse they are funding with their ticket purchases. I wish all newspapers and tv stations considered this headline worthy. The american people are being duped!


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