Happy holidays for humans often spell misery for animals in zoos, wildlife parks and nature reserves as people swarm to goggle at them. All too often, the interest turns malicious.
Animal advocates are urging National Day holidaymakers both at home and abroad to treat animals in captivity with respect. No cuddling, needling, poking or provoking.
World Animal Protection China also urges the public to avoid activities where wild animals are exploited for entertainment, such as circuses. It said such animals are often treated cruelly.
“Wild nature is the real home of wild animals,” said Sun Quanhui, senior science advisor of the organization.
“We encourage tourists to be animal friendly, and say no to animal entertainment.If people truly care about animals, they should choose to appreciate them only in the wild.”
And “only in the wild” doesn’t mean staged versions of nature.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, three Chinese tourists were riding an elephant in August when the animal suddenly went berserk. The elephant killed its trainer and then ran into a forest with the Chinese still on its back. The animal was later anaesthetized and recaptured, and the Chinese rescued without harm.
Wildlife Friends of Thailand, a local wildlife protection association, said the elephant had suffered a breakdown because it was overworked, forced to carry tourists for joy rides 365 days a year.
World Animal Protection China said using elephants for such tourist stunts is cruel treatment. It said baby elephants are often forced to leave their mothers at age 2 to entertainment training. The taming process, the group said, often involves subjecting the animals to hunger, sleep deprivation and beatings.
In China last year, the case of a dead panda provoked nationwide headlines. The panda, named Jin Yi, was kept at the Zhengzhou Zoo in the central province of Henan. Visitors accused the zoo of mistreating the animal by forcing her to pose with visitors, by not feeding her properly and by maintaining a poor living environment for her.
The Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, where Jin Yi was born, had warned the Zhengzhou Zoo twice in 2011 to stop using the panda for any profit-making stunts.
Even animals in enclosures are not always safe. In May visitors to a zoo in Hefei, Anhui Province, were found throwing objects at a gorilla. The animal retaliated by throwing these objects back at its human tormentors.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Forestry ordered zoos and wildlife reserves in China to stop all entertainment-related activities with animals. The ministry said improper contact between humans and wildlife may cause the animals to catch a disease that can be fatal to them.
Also this year, a reality show called “Wonderful Friends,” aired by Hunan Television, was widely accused of animal abuse. Although the program said it aims to promote animal appreciation, content that included celebrities “playing” with wild animals sparked controversy all over China.
Experts said the program misled audiences by suggesting that wild animals like to be touched, hugged and cuddled. A chimpanzee that grins when touched by a human isn’t expressing pleasure. The apparent grin is a sign of stress, according to animal rights activists.
“Guests in the program have chimpanzee cubs dress up in human clothing to try to make them ‘feel’ human,” said Chang Jiwen, deputy director of the Resource and Environment Policy Institute of the Development Research Center of the State Council. “It’s immoral.”
World Animal Protection China says all animal entertainment shows should be banned.
At the Shanghai Wildlife Zoo, animal performances take place all day, every day — from a welcoming party in the morning to a lion and tiger circus in the afternoon.
At Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna, in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province, there’s a circus show everyday, including one segment where elephants have to perform wire walking.
The ministry edict against “abusive animal performances” has a glaring loophole. None of the organizations putting on live performances calls its activities “abusive.” Rather, they claim that they take good care of the animals and don’t require them to do anything harmful.
Animal protection advocates see it differently.
“Circus performances require animals to do things that against their natures,” said Sun. “That is very cruel in the first place.”
World Animal Protection China said its recent survey of public attitudes showed that most people are ignorant about abuses that may lurk in the shadows of entertainment performances.
The survey, covering 1,000 Chinese tourists, showed that more than half of respondents who admitted watching live animal performances said they love animals, but only 18 percent agreed that training the animals should be free of any pain or other abuse.
“We believe that our mission is to make people aware of the cruelty behind animal entertainment,”said Sun.