Zoo closed for probe into death of 11 tigers
It is the Chinese Year of the Tiger but it has been far from auspicious. China's Shenyang Zoo has closed after 11 Siberian tigers died of starvation or were shot this year amid murky tales of body parts being used for traditional medicinal remedies.
The Chinese government has ordered an inquiry into the deaths of the rare Siberian tigers, of which there are only an estimated 300 left in the wild, 50 of them in China. But what has already played out before an enraged Chinese audience is a story of terrible neglect and poorly financed zoos.
The 11 tigers died after they were fed nothing but chicken bones at Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo, according to Chinese media reports this week.
Another three listless big cats are reported to be shedding fur and have lost their appetites. A further two were shot dead after mauling a zoo worker in November 2009. The tigers are not the only victims of a cash crisis at the mainly privately-owned zoological park. Some 26 animals from 15 species have died this year, including four camels, a lion, a brown bear and a Mongolian horse. In all, the number of animals in the zoo is believed to have dropped by half in a decade.
Rumours swirled immediately that the tigers had been killed for their bones, which are prized in traditional Chinese medicine. Every year there are widespread illegal sales of tiger bones, penises and other parts because many believe that tiger parts can increase potency or cure diseases. A zoo worker said the remains of the dead animals were used to make tiger-bone liquor that "was used to serve important guests".
But the zoo's managers denied anything untoward had happened and had allowed in experts to carry out tests and report the results to the authorities.
Officials ordered the zoo to close pending the result of an investigation.