At best, zoos are institutions of conservation and wildlife education. At worst, they’re abusive prisons that exploit wildlife to make money. But this tale of zoo cruelty out of China is beyond the pale—recently, visitors to a Shenzhen zoo killed nine crocodiles by throwing rocks and garbage into their exhibit.
The incident apparently stemmed from visitors’ dissatisfaction with the hibernating crocodiles. Trying to get the reptiles to move, guests began yelling and spitting at the animals. This behavior quickly escalated into more extreme abuse: trash, stones and random objects were thrown at the sleeping crocodiles.
The zoo’s staff maintains that it was unable to stop people from hurling things into the crocodile enclosure. It was only later, when zookeepers went to clean the garbage out of the exhibit, that they discovered nine of the 11 crocodiles were dead.
While a violent crowd may seem out of zookeepers’ control, Chinese zoos have faced accusations of negligence before. It seems unlikely that the zoo officials were completely powerless to protect the crocodiles. Even if they were, they could have checked on the animals sooner rather than later—potentially saving some crocodiles from death.
Unfortunately this is not the first time a Chinese zoo has come under fire for careless staff or animal cruelty.
A few days ago visitors to the Hangzhou Zoo threw snowballs at the zoo’s lions; there was no zoo staff present to stop the crowd. Two years ago the Animals Asia Foundation published a report chronicling the horrible conditions and untrained staff found at many Chinese zoos. One of the worst offenses was forcing zoo animals to perform tricks using whips and metal hooks to direct them. The report says: “The appalling treatment of many animals by performance staff demonstrates a lack of compassion and respect for animals. Allowing the public to view animals being forced to behave unnaturally, and in many cases being beaten into performing, conveys the message that it is acceptable to dominate and harm animals in the name of entertainment.” Chinese zoos have also been accused of live-feeding, which involves starving predatory animals and having them stalk live prey to entertain visitors.
Taoism and Buddhism, two of China’s main religions, both have long histories of protecting and appreciating animals. Instead of encouraging people to torture animals by showing them cruel performances and live feedings, maybe these Chinese zoos should take note of the religious teachings and create zoos that are dedicated to preserving animal welfare.
What can zoos do to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future? Tell us your solutions in the COMMENTS below.
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