Circus canceled as Chinese stress animal welfare

By Louise Watt, AP

BEIJING — A Chinese circus featuring animal performances was canceled after citizens called for a boycott and tipped off authorities, in what activists billed a victory for a growing animal welfare movement.

The promotional material for the Jinan Animal Carnival Festival suggested the shows would have bears lying on their backs twirling flaming rods, tigers riding horses and a monkey riding a goat.

Chinese regulations ban animal performances, but animal rights activists estimate hundreds of shows still take place each year. They say animals are kept in poor conditions and trained under fear and stress to perform tricks.

A local Communist Party-run newspaper, the Qilu Evening News, reported that citizens had organized an online boycott of the festival that was due to open in late September and tipped off the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, which has responsibility for zoo management. It said the ministry issued an “urgent notice” for the festival’s cancellation and the organizers had refunded tickets.

The ministry refused to comment Wednesday. The organizer, Jinan Municipal Horticulture Greening Administration, and host, Jinan Quancheng Ecological Park, confirmed the show had been canceled but refused to give details.

In 2010, China’s State Forestry Administration banned animal shows involving cruelty, and in June this year the housing ministry issued regulations saying “animal shows are strictly forbidden.”

Dave Neale of Hong Kong-based Animals Asia, which has been documenting animal shows in China for the past four years, said there has been little enforcement of the regulations and there are still hundreds of animal performances a year.

Even though animal shows are still popular, there is growing awareness of mistreatment of performing animals, Neale said.

“The fact that people were actually phoning the ministry to oppose this particular development was something that we have not heard before for a zoo issue,” he said.

Qin Xiaona, founder of the Capital Animal Welfare Association, said there is still a long way to go before animal welfare enters the consciousness of mainstream Chinese society.

“In China, more and more people are participating in the protection of animal rights, but there are many people and companies still trying to commercialize and make profit from animals,” she said.

Some zoos have stopped animal performances following the official ban, including Nanjing Zoo in east China in March 2011. Zoo press officer Bai Yali said visitor numbers dropped sharply afterward, but the zoo introduced more animal species and educational programs and visitors rose 18 percent in 2012 over 2010.