Behind rusted bars, a skeletal male tiger lies panting on the filthy concrete floor of his cage, covered in sores and untreated wounds. His once-fearsome body is so emaciated it is little more than a pitiful pile of fur and bones.Death is surely a matter of days away and can only come as a welcome release. Wardens at the wildlife park in southwest China say, indifferently, that they do not expect him to see the start of the Year of the Tiger which began last Sunday.
‘What can we do?’ a female park official asks a small huddle of visitors with a sigh and a casual shrug. ‘He’s dying, of course, but we have to keep feeding him until he does. It’s against the law to kill tigers.’Instead, it seems, they die slowly of neglect. In row after row of foul, cramped cages, more tigers lie alone, crippled and dying. One is hunched up against the side of its cage with its neck grotesquely deformed. Another, blinded in one eye, lies motionless.
This shabby, rundown park in Guilin – one of China’s main tourist cities – is home to the world’s biggest single collection of tigers. Yet it is never included on foreigners’ tour itineraries.For here, 1,500 captive tigers – around half as many as there are thought to be remaining in the wild – live out miserable lives in squalid conditions.Each tiger costs around £6 a day to feed, and it is easy to see that the small clusters of visitors paying £7.50 each to wander around the cages and watch bizarre animal shows cannot possibly cover even the cost of food for the vast park.