Making tiger-bone wine. Photo from http://advocacy.britannica.com
When news broke about the 11 Siberian tigers found dead from malnutrition in a Shenyang zoo, we wondered how many more tiger deaths would be brought to light as the year drags on. We didn’t have to wait long to find out – two white tiger carcasses have been found in a mass grave near a zoo in Heilongjiang, along with the remains of lions, leopards, elephants, great bustards and other animals.
The Times reports that more than 30 bodies were found in the mass grave, a three-meter deep pit near Harbin Northern Forest Zoo. The bones and remains, which were visible through the snow, belonged to animals that had died after the zoo’s 2007 decision to cut costs by changing animals’ diets.
Zoo manager Li Xiaowei told Xinhua that large carnivores, including the tigers, had been fed chicken bones, which replaced their usual diet of beef or lamb. Lions were occasionally fed corn buns instead of meat. Alternatives were also tried out on other animals, according to the Times:
Another zoo employee said that more than 80 per cent of the animals were being fed on bean cakes to keep up their protein levels. However, the zoo could no longer afford cakes of sufficient quality.
The employee said: “The animals eat this feed every day and many can only just stay alive. Death is coming closer and closer.”
Apparently, after 14 large predators died of malnutrition in 2008, officials went back to feeding the surviving carnivores beef and mutton. However, it wasn’t enough to save some animals that couldn’t recover from months of starvation.
Even with these tragic diet changes, the zoo’s financial difficulties were so severe that animals were denied veterinary care. From Xinhua:
One zoo worker, on condition of anonymity, told how a Mongolian gazelle had contracted an unidentified infectious disease, but the zoo could not afford veterinary treatment. The illness spread, killing more than 20 Mongolian gazelles and deer.
The mass grave was dug for deceased animals since the zoo couldn’t afford to incinerate every creature that had died.
With all these reported financial difficulties faced by zoos around China resulting in a growing number of animals being starved to death, we’re not even shocked to learn that zoos are leasing out their animals to pay for food. The Xinhua report states that the Guilin Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Park is allowing its tigers to perform in circus acts in an effort to raise money to feed them. Talk about having to work for your meal.
As concerned and outraged as we are over the welfare of animals taken out of zoos to perform, the sad truth is that dancing Guilin tigers are still better off than their brethren up north, where the alternative fate for captured tigers appears to be death, followed by having their skeletons soaked in liquor to make tiger-bone wine.
According to Shanghai Daily, the tiger skeleton in liquor is openly displayed in a fish tank in the Northeast China Tiger Park, where patrons are charged up to 2880RMB per bottle of tiger-infused wine. An employee at the zoo confirmed the authenticity of the wine – after all, they have easy access to the main ingredient.
As the dire financial difficulties faced by China’s zoos and the resulting animal abuses gain attention both here and abroad, let’s hope for some change in the near future. In the meantime, please don’t buy tiger-bone wine – we’re completely positive it really isn’t going to cure your arthritis and rheumatism.