Releasing Captive Tigers

Releasing Tigers - Page 1: Releasing Captive-Bred Species | 2 & 3: Issues Specific To The Tiger |
4 to 9: Xiongsheng Bear & Tiger Entertainment City | 10&11: Tiger Moon Sanctuary

The main event:

This medieval cycle of life and death starts immediately visitors have paid their 80-yuan admission fee. Just beyond the turnstiles, they are greeted by the resident "fisherman". For 10 yuan, he will bait a bamboo fishing pole with a live chicken or duck and demonstrate how to dangle it head-first into a pit full of tigers. Pole-bearers jostle for position as children and onlookers squeal with delight at each tease and catch. The young tigers rip the chickens and ducks to shreds, fighting over every carcass.

But this is just a teaser for the main event. Twice each day, a loudspeaker announces the "wildness training" spectacle, and the eager crowds file past a pen full of suckling lion cubs and their surrogate lactating dog-mothers, to the grey coliseum on the other side of the park. Hungry tigers await.

Hungry tigers are not what you see first. A sign at the entrance warns against "children and those with weak hearts" entering as the live feeding "necessary to the tiger's survival in the wilderness . . . nevertheless contains a certain brutality". No-one stops to read. Inside the dank, cold concrete arena the tigers pace their cages below while the punters laugh and smoke and take their seats upstairs. A placid calf stands tethered to an iron gate, brown eyes impassive. It will have to wait its turn.

Dancing girls and pigs:

Dancing girls twirling boa constrictors add an air of frivolity to the start of the show. But this is not what people have paid to see, and when a small pig is dumped unceremoniously into the centre of the arena and the first juvenile tiger let out of its cage, there is expectant silence - then boos of disappointment as the cat ignores its prey, instead going straight to its neighbouring felines in their cages. The pig makes the first move. With poignant naïveté and no hint of fear, it approaches the cat which suddenly turns, pounces and starts tearing at its neck.

The pig squeals and the spectre of death looms. But this is no death. The crowd cheers as the cat mauls and toys with its prey. It does not know how to kill, and indeed has no reason to do so: the pig is not going anywhere and the tiger is not particularly hungry, perhaps relishing its only chance to relieve the boredom of being locked up. It drags the still-squealing pig back into its cage to play with it.

The crowd shows its appreciation by laughing, spitting and dropping burning cigarette butts on the caged tigers below.

The calf:

It is the calf's turn, and this time there is no hesitation. A big, lean, full-grown cat is let loose and goes straight for the throat. The young calf mews and cries, kicking at the tiger, struggling to remain on its feet, urinating and defecating across the concrete floor as the big cat subdues its prey, then begins to tear its flesh, eating it alive as it bellows in agony.

A front-end loader suddenly disrupts the proceedings, entering the arena to chase the cat back into its cage. It scoops up first the pig, then the calf - both bleeding profusely but still alive - and removes them to an abattoir behind the main coliseum. Death comes at human hands via a blow to the head and a sharp knife to the throat. The carcasses are cut up and fed to the other cats.


Australian tigers:

Leaving the bloodied arena to the sound of laughter, visitors then approach one of the park's open enclosures. Inside are a number of albino Siberian tigers. A sign in Chinese and English describes them as "The White Tiger from North America, Japan and Australia". A park official, asked where she understands the animals originate, answers helpfully: "These are from Australia. They cost 300 yuan each."

"There are no tigers in Australia. Except in zoos."

"Oh. Well you've probably never seen them there because they are white - they're very hard to see in the snow."

Next to the "Australian" tigers are the Bengals. Another sign says they are from "Bangladesh, Italy". The lack of knowledge brings into question the level of experience of the park's "experts", who told Ms Robinson during her visit last year that they had six south China tigers, four Bengal tigers, 60 Siberian tigers, 130 Asiatic black bears, one brown bear, 19 African lions, one clouded leopard and one golden cat.

Tiger bone wine:

Ms Robinson suspects that despite owner Mr Zhou's claim that the aim is to release the animals into the wild, they are wanted for a far more grisly end. One of the first things Ms Robinson and Mr Chiao discovered during their visit was the illegal sale of tiger wine.

"While the park claims it is breeding the tigers for eventual release, we haven't seen any evidence of this," Ms Robinson said. "All they've done is trained them to kill livestock and get used to human contact - a sure recipe for disaster in the wild. Yet there hasn't even been a nature reserve allocated to them. Certainly they are not being released into the wild and some, I shudder to say, probably find their way into the bottom of a wine bottle."

Export certificates:

She said that according to local villagers, three tigers a month were culled for such trade. A "museum" inside the park grounds doubles as a distillery and sales outlet for tiger-bone, bear bile and gall-bladder rice wines and other products. The tiger wine is sold in a black box labelled simply as "Restorative Bone Wine" for 500 yuan a bottle. Sales staff insist it is made from tiger bones, though for legal reasons cannot be sold as such. Instead, doubtful buyers are led to a back room and shown earthenware wine pots containing tiger skulls to allay their disbelief. Each bottle comes with an official export certificate. If visitors prefer, they can try it by the glass in the park's restaurant which, according to Ms Robinson, also serves tiger-meat dishes.

Endangered black Asiatic bears are much sought after for the reputed tonic properties of their gall-bladders and bile. The park shows them in a motorcycle high-wire act, a mock "bear wedding" and a bicycle race in which baby black bears are whipped to the finish line Tiger Mountain's days may be numbered, but similar animal shows are unlikely to end with it. At least four similar parks are in operation on the mainland.

[End publication]


A number of other similar facilities are known of, one of which specialises in the Amur tiger and claims it cannot continue to breed and 'train' tigers without supporting itself through the sale of tiger parts. Parks of this type receive no government funding. In terms of quantity, rather than quality breeding of Amur tigers the park was very successful until their money ran out.

But this success was in spite of the quality of care rather than because of it. They claim that not only does public buying and feeding of chickens, goats and other domestic animals, train the tigers for release, but it also covers a great many of their costs, without which they would face closure.

Despite increasing pressure for all facilities to halt this practice, they continue to operate and there is no indication of a forthcoming change. As the years pass there is not one solitary indication that there is any intention to release tigers, and no scientific evidence to back up the practice.

(Continued Page 9)

Releasing Tigers - Page 1: Releasing Captive-Bred Species | 2 & 3: Issues Specific To The Tiger |
4 to 9: Xiongsheng Bear & Tiger Entertainment City | 10&11: Tiger Moon Sanctuary

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