Guangzhou Zoo Negotiates With Loath-to-Leave Animal Circus
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2017-09-05 08:29:28

Wild animals continue to perform at the Guangzhou Zoo, even though the circus’ contract expired last week, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Monday.

Anhui Guangde Animal Circus has operated at the Guangzhou Zoo in southern China’s Guangdong province for 24 years. The zoo announced on Aug. 30 that it would not be renewing its contract with the tenant when it expired the following day, but the circus has nonetheless continued to sell tickets and stage performances.

Lin Xingrong, head of the zoo’s administrative department, told Sixth Tone that they had sent notices to the circus several times before the announcement, as well as taken other measures to get it to close shop. “We have put up signs at both the zoo’s south and north gates to inform visitors,” Lin said. “We have also tried to persuade [the circus to leave] multiple times, but they ignore us.”

In a notice released Monday, the zoo called the circus’ persistence “illicit business behavior” and asked visitors not buy tickets to see it.

Guangzhou Zoo has long wanted to repurpose the arena that now houses the circus for scientific research and education, said Lin, adding that this is in line with the zoo’s transitioning goals to provide more natural exhibits and popularize science. “This is a development trend for zoos around the world,” she said.

Huang Yingzhi, director of the animal circus, told Sixth Tone that he cannot accept the zoo’s decision. “We are defending the whole circus business. We need an explanation. We have to eat as well,” Huang said, adding that he employs 20 trainers. “Zoos and animal circuses go very well together.”

Anhui Guangde Animal Circus came to the Guangzhou Zoo in 1993, and signed a contract with the zoo to rent its Animal Behavior Exhibition Hall as a permanent venue. Its acts include bears playing with Hula-Hoops, monkeys riding bikes, and tigers standing on their hind legs.

Hu Chunmei, head of Beijing-based animal welfare organization Freedom for Animal Actors, told Sixth Tone she welcomes the decision by Guangzhou Zoo. “Animal performance goes against the animals’ nature,” she said.

Circuses have long been criticized by animal rights advocates for their abusive training methods and lack of consideration for animals’ welfare. China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2010 released a guideline recommending zoos to stop animal performances; however, such performances are still common features of permanent and traveling circuses across the country.

When Hu and her fellow activists conducted a telephone survey last year, they found that out of 243 zoos, 95 still offered circus performances. While more and more zoos in urban areas are canceling these performances, Hu said, the situation hasn’t changed much in rural areas — and many of the circuses kicked out of zoos have set up camp and begun giving performances in shopping malls and sports stadiums instead.

The circus director, Huang, defended their training methods by comparing the situation to raising a child. “Some parents hit children to discipline them,” he said. “It’s violence, but not abuse. We depend on these animals, so why would we abuse them?”

Huang lamented that the restrictions on animal circuses have become increasingly strict even though, he said, they are part of the country’s cultural heritage. “We have brought immeasurable laughter to our audiences since the [People’s Republic] was founded,” said the 60-year-old Huang, who became an animal trainer in his early 20s. “After all these years of performances, why is there not even a happy farewell?”

Lin of the Guangzhou Zoo said that in recent years, the zoo has dedicated itself to improving animal welfare and ending animal performances. The zoo will continue to negotiate with the circus and is even willing to help it move — though if that doesn’t work, she added, it will consider taking legal action.

For the animal welfare activists, an accord between the two sides can’t come fast enough. “I really hope the circus can move out as soon as possible,” Hu said.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Circus monkeys ride bicycles at the Guangzhou Zoo, Aug. 31, 2017. Southern Metropolis Daily/VCG)