2017-11-21 12:12:36

Thousands of animals could be left homeless as a private wildlife rescue center in southwestern China has been asked to relocate due to local development plans, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Tuesday.

The 15,000-square-meter facility in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, houses around 2,000 animals of more than 30 species, mostly rescued from the wild. Its residents include the critically endangered Yangtze alligator and the iridescent Chinese monal pheasant. According to manager Zhou Ming, the center sustains itself financially by selling animals they’ve bred to zoos and animal research bases.

The village committee of Changle, from whom Zhou leases the site in Pidu District, have offered him 4 million yuan ($600,000) in compensation to relocate, but he feels that it’s not enough — especially since the costs of land, construction materials, and labor are all rising. “It would be impossible to build a similar center elsewhere with that amount of money,” Zhou told Sixth Tone on Tuesday. He estimates a new center would cost 6.8 million yuan.

Zhou said the village committee has visited him several times since April to negotiate relocation. Last Monday, village committee officials told him they would no longer accept rent payments and would cut off the facility’s electricity and water “if necessary.” But Zhou’s lease for the center — seen by Sixth Tone — runs from 2007 to 2028 and states that neither party can “change or terminate the contract” once it takes effect.

Zhu Wenhua, the village committee head, told The Paper that the officials are not forcing Zhou to move and are still discussing relocation compensation. Zhu refused Sixth Tone’s interview request on Tuesday, directing questions to the district government’s publicity department instead.

But Zhou said he has been pressured by local authorities since he refused to move. “Just this morning, several officials from the district’s environmental protection bureau came by, asking for an environmental assessment qualification,” he said on Tuesday. Zhou explained that the government had never asked for such a qualification before, and that the center is certified by the Pidu District agriculture and forestry bureau.

“They said if I move this year, they will not pursue the case,” Zhou added, “but if I don’t, they will punish me according to environmental regulations.”

An official surnamed Huang from the district environmental protection bureau told Sixth Tone that the visit was a standard random check that all industries in the region are subject to. “We sent staff to the rescue center to ask whether [Zhou] possesses the documents, but we never asked the center to move the way he claimed,” said Huang.

Zhu, the village committee head, told The Paper that the center’s relocation is necessary for Chengdu’s municipal redevelopment plan, which requires the removal of all farms that house animals from the western part of the city — where Pidu District is located. An official from the district agriculture and forestry bureau confirmed to The Paper that the commercial livestock farms in the area had already moved this year.

But Zhou said the village wants to relocate his center to make way for a major ecotourism project that a Sichuan-based company is developing in the area — a commercial enterprise that is not part of the municipal plan.

The company director, Pu Yongqiang, denied that his firm wants to use the site. “We approached Zhu five years ago but didn’t make a deal,” Pu told Sixth Tone. “What is happening now has nothing to do with our company.” However, Zhu told The Paper that the land on which the center currently sits would be part of the ecotourism project.

Like many privately managed wildlife shelters, the rescue center struggled to survive even before the recent land dispute. Zhou said staff have left because salaries aren’t stable, and the center now has only four employees. “Funding from local authorities is limited and sporadic,” said Zhou. But he hasn’t considered giving up on the animals.

“I will care for them with all my might,” Zhou said.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: A tiger in a cage at a wildlife rescue center in Qingdao, Shandong province, Feb. 26, 2015. Yu Fangping/VCG)