In his 1991 bestseller Native Tongue, Florida-based satirist Carl Hiaasen explored the schizophrenic nature of theme parks: they are technicolour temples of family fun on the outside, but dark, often exploitative businesses behind the scenes.
But even Hiaasen, whose novels revel in the gruesome and bizarre, couldn’t have imagined the recent events at a Jiangsu safari park.
On a rainy day in June visitors to the tiger enclosure were shocked to see a live donkey being fed to the park’s tigers.
The terrified animal arrived in the back of pick-up truck, was thrown in the moat around the enclosure and was slowly mauled to death by the tigers. It took 30 minutes for the donkey to die.
The park was not known for live feeding, as some parks in China are.
Instead the horrific incident was a bizarre protest by some of the zoo’s shareholders, who had not been able to make any profit from their investment in the park since 2012. They are also unable to liquidate their assets, which are worth around Rmb300 million ($44 million), because a court case has frozen all the park’s property since 2015.
According to ThePaper.cn, the shareholders originally planned to take a donkey and some sheep from the zoo and sell the animals (presumably to save the cost of feeding them too). But when they were barred from leaving the park they fed the donkey to the tigers in a “fit of pique”.
“If the animals can’t make money, why would we keep them,” one of the men said.
The event threw fresh light on the dire state of Yancheng Wild Animal World. A statement from the zoo said the court case had limited its ability to invest in animal welfare, or buy vaccines.
Two giraffes and a chimpanzee had already died because of the financial constraints, it said.
Many people took to social media to condemn the investors’ actions. “Those shareholders should now be fed to the tigers,” said one.
Others bemoaned the very existence of zoos in general.
“Why have a zoo if you don’t have the staff or expertise to keep the animals safe” asked another.
State media was also particularly outspoken with the People’s Daily saying “human behaviour is sometimes worse than animals’ ”.
“By giving animals due respect humans also achieve redemption,” it added in uncharacteristically spiritual language.
Meanwhile the China Youth Daily lamented “the donkey should not have had to pay for a human dispute”. It also noted that concern for animal welfare was on the rise in China.
In May it was reported that the government in Guangxi province had quietly banned the consumption of dog meat in Yulin this June – normally the month that the city holds an infamous dog eating festival (for more on this controversial event see WiC243).
Animal rights activist are currently holding their breath to see if the dogmeat ban holds.
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