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Hungry tigers at Chinese zoo maul each other as managers struggle to feed them amid SARS slump

ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

2003 Associated Press

(05-27) 07:06 PDT BEIJING (AP) --

Hungry tigers and lions have been attacking each other at a Chinese zoo that says it can't afford to feed its animals because of a slump in visitors amid SARS fears.

A 5-year-old lion was killed by three other lions and two tigers were injured in brawls with other tigers at the Xiamen Haicang Wild Animal Park in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen, said Liu Huichun, its general manager.

"Hunger has made the animals irritable and they have returned to the laws of the jungle," Liu said.

Zoos and other tourism-dependent businesses have been devastated by official efforts to contain SARS by discouraging Chinese from traveling. The public also is anxious about pets and zoo animals after reports the disease might have originated in wild animals.

The number of visitors to the Xiamen park has fallen 98 percent from a daily average of 500 before the outbreak, forcing cuts in food for the animals, Liu said.

The park has six Siberian tigers, 12 mature African lions and 10 lion cubs, according to the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily, which showed a tiger weakened by hunger languishing in its cage.

A tiger or lion at the zoo usually eats a daily diet of 11 pounds of beef, two pounds of chicken bones, two live chickens, eggs and milk powder, Liu said.

These days, he said, the animals get 6 1/2 pounds of feed, chicken bones and no eggs or milk. Deer and goats are going hungry because of cutbacks in supplies of grass, he said.

Zoo employees have been donating money and the Xiamen city government is trying to find ways to make up the shortages, Liu said.

"Animals are national resources. Protecting them is always our priority," Liu said. "I'm worried that these animals will be in danger if this continues."

The zoo already has spent $50,000 on disinfection and other anti-SARS measures, the newspaper China Daily said.

Researchers have found the SARS virus in civet cats, raccoon dogs, snakes and bats.

Reflecting concern that animals might spread the virus, the southern province of Guangdong has tightened controls on breeding and handling wildlife.

The Xiangjiang Wild Animal Zoo in Guangdong's provincial capital of Guangzhou said some traditional activities that allow people to get close to animals, such as taking photos with baby tigers, have been stopped. Food supplies were adequate, said an employee in the zoo's marketing department, who gave only his surname, Hua.

"We can assure visitors that watching animals at a distance is still safe," Hua said.

Other zoos said they had not cut back on food for animals, despite economic losses.

"Even if we don't eat, we would guarantee the animals have enough food to eat," said an official at the Wild Animal Park in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou who refused to give his name.

2003 Associated Press

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