China has closed to the public a zoo where 11 Siberian tigers died of starvation and several others are in critical condition, state media said Wednesday.
Public admission was suspended at the Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo in the north-eastern city of Shenyang after an investigation concluded that the tigers died from a combination of malnutrition, poor conditions and winter cold, an official told the Global Times, DPA reported.
"We have urged the local government to investigate the specific reasons for the irregular deaths of these tigers," Zhang Xiwu, director of wildlife protection at the State Forestry Administration, told the newspaper.
The local government promised 7 million yuan (1.03 million dollars) to help improve conditions at the zoo and feed the remaining 30 tigers, three of which were seriously ill, it said.
The privately owned zoo, in which the city government has a 15-per-cent stake, has annual operating costs of about 10 million yuan a year, the newspaper said.
The cash-strapped facility reportedly fed its tigers only chicken bones over several months.
The Beijing News quoted zoo workers as saying the zoo had previously used the bones of dead tigers to make medicinal tonic wine that was kept in an office building and hidden whenever important visitors arrived.
Officials had locked away the bones from the tigers that recently died to prevent them from being sold for making Chinese medicine, the reports said.
A local official said earlier that "legal loopholes" made it difficult for wildlife protection officers to take action against private zoos.
The conditions at the Shenyang Wild Animal Zoo were made worse by a local health and safety order to cage the tigers after two of them mauled a keeper in November, the official said.
Fewer than 500 Siberian tigers, also know as Amur tigers, are believed to remain in the wild, most of them in Russia's far east.
China has about 800 Siberian tigers in captivity while the global wild tiger population is estimated at 3,200, down from 20,000 in the 1980s.
In a report last week, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Wildlife Conservation Society said wild tigers were "lingering on the edge of extinction."
"Within the last decade, wild tiger habitats have decreased by 40 per cent with the species now occupying only 7 per cent of its historical range around the world," the report said.