Zoo closed to save starving tigers

11:11, March 17, 2010      

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Authorities were making all-out efforts to save three seriously ill Siberian tigers at a northeast China zoo after the death by starvation of 11 big cats there.

Meanwhile, experts have called for an overhaul of the country's privately-owned zoos to better protect animal interests.

The tigers at the Shenyang Forest Wildlife Zoo, in Liaoning Province, starved through malnutrition over three months, preliminary investigation showed.

Experts who helped rescue the remaining 30 tigers found three very ill, one of which in critical condition.
Zhang Xiwu, director of wildlife protection at the State Forestry Administration, told the Global Times Tuesday that the zoo has been ordered to suspend its operations.

"We have urged the local government to investigate the specific reasons for the irregular deaths of these tigers," he said.

The Shenyang government has a 15 percent stake in the privately owned zoo. According to media reports, a lack of visitors and the owner's massive debts owed for operation costs and employees' pay has left the zoo on the brink of bankruptcy. It has been looking to the government for a bail out since last year.

Zookeepers had been feeding the rare animals cheap chicken bones, costing less than five yuan (less than $1).

Experts involved in the rescue have been giving them nutrient injections to improve their appetite and physique, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The tigers were being kept in dimly lit, small cages after a mauling incident killed a worker in November last year. Some believe the tiger, which was later shot dead, attacked because it was being starved.

According to Zhang, the latest investigation shows that the 11 tigers died from malnutrition and a change of environment as well as bad weather.

Following extensive media coverage of the incident nationwide, the local government pledged 7 million yuan ($1.03 million) to help the zoo improve conditions. However, the zoo's operation costs are about 10 million yuan a year, and it is unclear what will be done when the money runs out.

More than 20 heating and lighting facilities had been installed since Sunday. Disinfection and ventilation measures had been adopted and food and water supplies improved.

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