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Circus cancelled as animal welfare emphasized
A circus featuring animal performances was cancelled after citizens called for a boycott and tipped off authorities, which activists have billed as a victory for a growing animal welfare movement in China.
The promotional material for Jinan Animal Carnival Festival suggested the shows would have bears lying on their backs twirling flaming rods, tigers riding horses and a monkey riding a goat.
Chinese regulations ban animal performances, but animal rights activists estimate hundreds of shows still take place each year. They say animals are kept in poor conditions and trained under fear and stress to perform tricks.
A local Communist Party-run newspaper, the Qilu Evening News, reported that citizens had organized an online boycott of the nearly-three-week festival that was due to open in late September and tipped off the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, which has responsibility for zoo management. The paper said the ministry issued an “urgent notice” for the festival not to go ahead and that the organizers had refunded tickets.
The ministry refused to comment on Wednesday. Some microbloggers on Sina Weibo objected to animals being made to perform for people’s pleasure and they noted the official ban.
The organizer, Jinan Municipal Horticulture Greening Administration, and host, Jinan Quancheng Ecological Park, confirmed the show had been cancelled but refused to give details.
In 2010, China’s State Forestry Administration banned “direct contact between wild animals and the audience, and shows involving cruelty” and said possible penalties include suspending a business, revoking licenses for keeping and breeding animals and sending the case to judicial authorities. In June this year the housing ministry issued regulations that stated “animal shows are strictly forbidden.”
Dave Neale, of Hong Kong-based Animals Asia which has been documenting animal shows in China for the past four years, said there has been little enforcement of the regulations and that there are still hundreds of animal performances a year.
Even though animal shows are still popular, there is a growing awareness about the treatment of performing animals, said Neale.
“The fact that people were actually phoning the ministry to oppose this particular development was something that we have not heard before for a zoo issue,” he said.
Those citizens that campaign against such shows and highlight animal welfare issues are often university students and older people who started looking after stray dogs and cats.
Li Wei, 39, who runs an online store, said there was a growing effort to protect animal rights among Chinese younger than 40.
Through social networking, “they learn from each other and communicate knowledge with each other in terms of how to better protect animals,” she said.
Li volunteers twice a week for the Capital Animal Welfare Association, which started as a stray dog and cat sanctuary and now suggests to the government how to protect animals.
Its founder, Qin Xiaona, said there was still a long way to go before animal welfare entered the consciousness of Chinese mainstream society.
“In China, more and more people are participating in the protection of animal rights, but there are many people and companies still trying to commercialize and make profit from animals, such as under the banner of dog meat festivals,” she said.
In such festivals, such as an annual event in Yulin city in southern Guangxi, residents slaughter dogs for food.
Some zoos have stopped animal performances following the official ban, including Nanjing Zoo in east China in March 2011. Right afterward, they saw a sharp drop in visitor numbers, said Bai Yali, a zoo press officer. But the zoo introduced more animal species and educational programs and had seen an increase of 18 percent in visitor numbers in 2012 over 2010, she said. AP
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