A Shanghai zoo said yesterday it had canceled a show dubbed the Animal Olympics following accusations of cruelty from animal welfare groups.
The show was scrapped "out of consideration for the safety of our visitors," a woman said at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park's publicity department.
The woman declined to give her name and said official spokesmen were unavailable. She refused to answer questions about the cruelty accusations or give other details.
However, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted a park official, Su Feilong, as saying that a negative public response had prompted the cancelation.
"The games never caused any trouble before, but we received complaints this year, so we stopped them," Su was quoted as saying.
The show had featured animals in athletic-type situations, such as boxing matches between kangaroos and their keepers, bears fighting and riding bicycles, and an elephant tug-of-war.
Animal rights groups documented the acts, spread news about them on the Internet and organized letter-writing campaigns to the central government's tourism authority and Shanghai officials.
"This is degrading for the animals, insulting to our intelligence and a disaster for any possible chance of increasing respect for the wild animals we share the world with," Daniel Turner, senior program officer for Born Free's Zoocheck program, said in a statement on the British-based group's Web site.
The cancelation indicated heightened sensitivity to negative publicity about animal welfare in China, where such shows are common at zoos and animal parks and rarely draw complaints from the Chinese public. But growing concern is evident and is often linked to personal freedoms such as the right to own a pet, which were formerly banned by the communist regime.
Earlier this year, mass slaughters of dogs in an effort to control rabies sparked criticism even from state-controlled media. A campaign in Beijing to enforce strict rules on dog ownership, including limiting ownership to one dog, also prompted a rare public protest earlier this month by about 500 demonstrators outside a city zoo.
"Chinese law only seeks to protect rare wild animals and there is little that can be done to publicize the importance of animal protection in general," said Tao Rongfang, of the Shanghai Small Animal Protection Association, a private voluntary group that is one of China's oldest animal welfare organizations.
"It's good to see that some of our citizens realize this problem and ... object against this," Tao said.