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August 16, 2010

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Heat policy draws fire at animal park

ANIMAL experts and park visitors objected to a new policy which gives some "animal athletes" at Shanghai Wildlife Park the day off when the temperature hits 35 degrees Celsius or above.

The experts said the policy doesn't go far enough and that the animals should not be used for entertainment like performing outdoors, not to mention performing in the heat of the scorching summer.

Last week, when the temperature climbed over 37 degrees, Shanghai Daily witnessed horses and camels competing in races even though there were few people to watch.

The races take place daily at 2:15pm. Before the new policy took effect, the animals raced even when the mercury topped 38 degrees.

The horses and camels compete in two 200m races. Afterwards, some of the animals remain on the field as visitors can pay 30 yuan (US$4.3) for a ride. Few visitors seemed interested, but keepers waited on the field with the animals. A horse named "Ge De" sweated strongly after the race, while a camel named "Xiao Bai" was laying on its stomach under a tree. Both animals looked exhausted.

When contacted by Shanghai Daily, experts with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said that the physical strain of exertion in hot weather is bad for animals' health and it's only one of many cruelties that the animals endure.

The fund's officials called on the zoo to put an end to the use of animals for entertainment.

Dr Kati Loeffler, veterinary adviser for the IFAW, said that what the animals suffer would result in chronic, severe stress.

"Stress of this nature makes animals, including people, severely ill with many types of diseases, such as heart disease, metabolic disease and cancers," Loeffler said.

Most performing animals and animals in zoos and safari parks die very young due to illnesses related to long-term, severe stress and abuse, she added.

The park's keepers were also worried about the health of the animals, but said they "had no way out."

"I know the animals are really tired," said a keeper, who asked not to be identified.

The keeper told Shanghai Daily that before stepping on to the race track, the horses and camels had to be trained for two months.

According to the park's new policy, when the temperature is less than 35 degrees, greyhounds, ostriches and leopards also need to participate in the races.

Visitors also expressed sympathy for the animals. "There are no such performances at the zoos in our hometown," said Zhang Rong, a visitor from Huai'an, Jiangsu Province. "I wonder whether the animals can stand the heat."

The park was once accused of mistreating animals when it held an "Animal Olympics" in 2006. The events included boxing between kangaroos and men.

The event was shut down due to complaints from both home and abroad.


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