Saturday, 08. March 2014 - 08:03
05. 12. 12. - 15:00
Horrific images of big cats kept in cramped cages and forced to perform for audiences are threatening China's thriving circus industry.
Amazingly, the grim big top snaps were taken after new animal welfare laws came into force across the county more than two years ago.
They show tigers and lions kept in rusty cages so small, the once-proud beasts cannot even stand up.
Often they are fed whatever scraps the performers can lay their hands on as they struggle to make a living.
This troupe - from Suzhou, Anhui province, eastern China - is considered well run by Chinese standards and is proud of living up to recent animal welfare regulations.
But even when they perform, they look frightened and desperate.
New laws in China allow big cats - which cost 10,000 GBP each to buy - to perform for audiences but they are banned from undertaking dangerous stunts like leaping through flaming hoops.
Owner Gu Yuanji claimed: "Our animals are very well cared for. Each one of then represents a huge investment of time and money - we wouldn't dream of hurting them. We love in harmony with our animals."
But one animal welfare expert said: "China's standards fall woefully short of most of the world. These animals look frightened and underfed."
"It's disgraceful putting such magnificent beasts through such agony for human beings to gawp at.
"Now even local people feel this isn't the way to treat wild animals and they are turning away from this sort of entertainment," they added.
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