years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Main entrance of Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village in Guilin, China.
Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village is located on the outskirts of Guilin City. Animals Asia staff first visited the park in 1998. At this time the owner, Mr Zhou Wei Sen claimed he possessed six south China tigers, four Bengal tigers, 60 Siberian tigers, 130 Asiatic black bears, one brown bear, 19 African lions, one clouded leopard, and one golden cat. Mr Zhou said he had successfully bred 90 Asiatic black bear cubs and hoped to have bred 500 tigers by the year 2000 and 1,000 tigers by 2005. At the beginning of the animal performance, the announcer said the park had 1,300 tigers and 400 bears.
Animals Asia's impression of the park at that time was poor, and we later supplied animal-enrichment programmes to the park and tried to persuade the director to convert the facility into a rescue and education centre.
In 1999 during a second visit to Xiongsen, Animals Asia witnessed the practice of feeding live prey to large predators and we subsequently exposed this practice internationally.
The park is shabby and in need of financial input, the enclosures are barren with few enrichment facilities. Most of the tiger enclosures are about 8m x 8m square; some of these enclosures contain small pools. Larger enclosures for tigers, lions and bears have “concrete” covers providing shade, but lack enrichment facilities.
Tigers, lions and bears are all locked out of their indoor enclosures to ensure they are available for the public to view. Tigers and bears pace in front of locked-access hatches to indoor areas of their enclosures.
Signs instruct the public not to throw objects into the cages and provide information on animal performances. There are no signs relating to species conservation, habitat conservation and/or general species behaviour and ecology.
No members of staff were seen in the public areas.
A number of animals exhibit stereotypic behaviour, this includes tigers pacing and bears rocking.
Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village has an outdoor “Grand Parade” arena with a number of shows each day and an indoor “Theater of Dreams” arena with regular shows throughout the day.
There is a purpose-built outdoor arena with seating for over 300 people, and a large performance area. The animals used in the performance include tigers, bears, macaques, horses, and camels.
The public viewing stand was almost empty throughout the performance. The people present clapped and laughed throughout.
The park has a purpose-built indoor arena for performances for over 500 people. Tigers, bears and horses are used in this performance, which is based on fear and intimidation. The circus showmen frequently engage in negative reinforcement, punching the bears and striking the tigers repeatedly with sticks, forcing them to carry out tricks which go against their natural behaviour and demonstrating to the audience that the animals can only be "controlled" by pain and fear. The bears are controlled by ropes inserted through their noses.
In general, the tigers and bears are in fear of the circus showmen and the tigers cower when the showmen approach. The tigers attempt to exhibit natural behaviour, comforting each other when possible by face-rubbing to reinforce social bonds. This behaviour is often seen between mother tigers and their young, and between courting pairs.
Public reaction during performance
The public showed enthusiasm, clapping and laughing throughout the performance.
Tiger Bone Museum Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village is a tiger-breeding farm. The park has a tiger bone museum, selling tiger bone wine, bear bile wine, vials of bear bile and lizard wine.
Xiongsen Park staff claim the bear bile comes from bears at the park. None of the bears on display to the public show signs of bile extraction, therefore it is probable that there are bears being held in cages for the purpose of bile extraction out of sight of the public, either on site or at another location.
The museum staff offered bear bile for sale and discussed ways of taking bear bile out of China illegally.
There is little educational value for people seeing animals that are not housed in conditions resembling their natural habitat. Teaching animals to perform inappropriate tricks does nothing to educate the public or foster respect for animals. There is no evidence to indicate that training and performance make up for the lack of stimulation provided by impoverished living accommodation. Experts attest that exhibiting such animals in fear and stress leads to a misrepresentation of the species in the public eye and teaches people nothing except the animals' size, shape and colour. Loud music used during animal performances can also cause stress and severe welfare problems.
The physical conditions for animals used in performances are appalling. The tigers and bears have been de-toothed – a practice that causes severe and chronic pain owing to the exposure of the pulp and nerve endings, and leads to potential infection of the surrounding area, including gums, jawbone and nasal region. The tigers and bears also appear to have been de-clawed; a practice that causes significant pain and leads to the animals’ inability to perform natural behaviour.
The showmen in the animal performances use fear to control the animals and force them to carry out humiliating tricks. This only demonstrates a need to dominate other species rather than a respect for the behavioural, ecological and conservation needs of these individuals and the species they represent. No animal should suffer in this way for the sake of public entertainment – especially when it results in a compromise to the health or welfare of the animal concerned. Animal performances portray the animal to the public in such a way which is humiliating and contrary to the principles of promoting empathy and respect.
A large number of breeding tigers show signs of physical neglect and exhibit serious stereotypic pacing due to the lack of enrichment and inadequate enclosure sizes.
The exhibition of white tigers shows a lack of knowledge and respect for tigers as a species. Due to the recessive nature of the gene that produces the white variety, inbreeding is one of the most common ways to produce white tiger offspring ie, father and daughter. This severe inbreeding can lead to a variety of health problems, including immune deficiencies, scoliosis, cleft palates, mental impairments and ultimately animals dying at a younger age. The white tiger gene is a deleterious recessive gene, which is disadvantageous to the survival of animals in the wild.
The continued sale of tiger bone wine, bear bile wine, vials of bear bile, and lizard wine causes further suffering of animals to provide these products. Bear farming is a completely inhumane practice, which causes severe welfare problems and the death of many bears from infections and tumours brought on by the continual abuse of their bodies to supply and obtain the bile.
The trade in tiger products is prohibited internationally. The limited trade allowed within China continues to encourage and provide a platform for the illegal market in tiger bone products throughout China. This leads to the further demise of the wild-tiger population and further suffering for tigers on tiger farms. The current international ban on tiger products has been effective in reducing the demand for tiger products and therefore these bans should be reinforced, not undermined.
Zoos and safari parks are ideally placed to foster compassion for animals and raise awareness and understanding of the welfare and conservation needs of individual animals and species. Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Mountain Village makes no attempt to provide this knowledge and to educate its visitors for the benefit of welfare and conservation.
Animals Asia recommendations
Immediately end the trade in bear bile and tiger bone wine.
Immediately end the farming of bears for their bile and the breeding of tigers and lions for tiger bone wine.
Inform staff about current CITES laws with regards the trade in endangered species products.
Immediately end the use of animals in performances and move towards developing human acrobatic displays to entertain visitors.
Immediately end the practice of de-toothing and de-clawing tigers and bears.
Provide larger enclosures and enrichment tools for tigers housed within the park in order to allow them to exhibit more naturalistic behaviours.
Adapt current bear enclosures and provide additional enrichment, giving the bears an environment suitable for their natural behaviours and allowing the bears to display more natural behaviour.
Meet with Animals Asia staff to discuss the management and husbandry of the bears, and seek advice on veterinary treatment, appropriate housing, environmental enrichment, and improved food and nutrition.
Ultimately, Animals Asia recommends this facility is phased out as it is unable to provide the appropriate environments to meet the behavioral and ecological needs of such large carnivores.