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December 12, 2011

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Fitness fad drives zoo bosses wild

SHANGHAI Zoo is introducing restrictions on the 10,000 people who descend there every morning to exercise, claiming they are upsetting animals.

Zoo officials said some people work out to loud music, frightening zoo residents, while other early morning visitors are there to "play" with dangerous animals or forage for wild fruit and edible plants.

The zoo started offering a space for morning exercises in the 1980s. At first, it was only for cancer patients but was later extended to the general population if they applied for a card.

Last year, application conditions were eased, leading to numbers soaring from around 1,000 to about 7,000.

And as seniors over 70 can also enter the park for free, every morning around 10,000 people go to the zoo for morning exercise.

Officials said as some arrive as early as 5am, three hours before zoo staff, it is difficult to ensure they behave properly.

Gradually, rather than working out, people have started coming to the zoo to play with animals, dig up edible plants and pick wild fruit, officials say.

"Such behavior is dangerous to the animals as well as to themselves," said Zhang Feng, the zoo director.

In the spring, a zebra that was spooked by people digging up plants near its enclosure ran into wire netting and died at the scene.

There have also been cases of pregnant animals miscarrying after being startled by loud disco and hip-hop music used in some dance exercises, officials said.

But some early morning visitors have come off worse in their encounters with zoo residents. Officials said an elderly man thought he was a "friend" of a lion, as he played with him every day.

But when he tried to tease him with his foot, the lion attacked the man, injuring his ankle.

Yesterday, Shanghai Zoo said people taking exercise must keep 10 metres away from enclosures.

And the zoo has temporarily suspended applications for exercise cards.

Officials said eventually they hope to confine people taking exercise to one area near the gate and ban forms of exercise involving loud noises, such as dancing.

"We have to make new rules step by step," said Zhang.

"We need to care about people's feelings as well, but ultimately, it's the welfare of the animals that must always come first for the zoo."


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