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Animal performance ban looms in China

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • An animal rights group lauds the ban on animal performances in China's zoos and attractions
  • The Chinese government issued a directive banning the performances in October
  • An animal welfare group documented widespread abuse of animal performers in China

Beijing (CNN) -- An October directive banning animal performances in Chinese zoos and attractions is already having an impact, but concerns remain about implementation of the ban, an animal welfare group that documented abuses in the country said Tuesday.

China's Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued the order banning animal performances in October, not long after the State Forestry Commission launched a campaign against animal mistreatment and placed a moratorium on the sale or transfer of performance animals.

The regulation prohibits all animal performances as well as the sale or consumption of wildlife meat or products in zoos and other parks. It also requires zoos and parks to provide sufficient food and medical care, provide sanitary housing and keep animals away from "disturbance or irritation."

The move has been lauded by animal welfare advocates who have long decried the animals' treatment as inhumane.

Animals Asia investigators documented widespread cruelty and abuse in their 2010 report, including animals that had their teeth removed, training practices that involved beating animals from almost from birth and tricks that endangered both animals and viewers.

While the ban is scheduled to take effect this month, it's unlikely that animal performances will come to a uniform halt across the country because of the edict, said Animals Asia Foundation animal welfare director David Neale.

"Some zoos have reportedly already stopped the performances following the issuing of the directive," said Neale. "Other zoos are likely to continue until they receive further notification."

The prohibition has upset some zookeepers, who say they cannot afford to pay staff and care for animals without income generated by animal performances, according to a November article by China's official Xinhua news agency.

Such complications raise concerns about what fate awaits performing animals who will no longer drive ticket sales for their owners, Neale said.

"We are very concerned about the future welfare of the performing animals," he said.

Animals Asia said zoos and attractions should be transformed into showcases for conservation and animal protection, a model many leading zoos have adopted in recent years.

It has also recommended that attractions adopt modern standards for the care, keeping and display of animals, including keeping animals in more natural environments and using positive techniques to stimulate their natural behavior.

"Visitors attending zoos should be encouraged to learn about the natural history of individual species, their natural behaviours, the threats to their survival and the need to conserve their habitats," Neale said.

"Ending the circus-style animal performances and implementing these recommendations will demonstrate a public commitment to protecting the natural environment, protecting animals from suffering and protecting species from extinction," he said.

The directive gave zoos and attractions three months to comply. That would make Tuesday the effective date, but it was not clear if the regulations had formally taken effect. Xinhua reported in November that the regulations would take effect at the end of January.