Schoolchildren visiting one of the top zoos in North Korea were disturbingly instructed to clap and shout as a neglected white tiger desperately tries to revive her stillborn cub, according to UK publication The Mirror.
Reporters from The Mirror were privy to the disturbing scene the Pyongyang Central Zoo in the nation’s capital during their trip to North Korea last month and reported that the white tiger “cried out, while its mate paced up and down the tiny cage in front of their bloodied and lifeless young.”
A zoo guide reportedly told the journalists excitedly that, “Our Supreme Leader said the tiger was the symbol of bravery and courage and loved by all Korean people.”
According to the Mirror, the animals in the zoo, owned by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, were not well cared at the facility that was founded by Jong Un’s grandfather and the original Supreme Leader, Kim Il-sung, in 1959.
Besides the tiger’s plight, reporters witnessed the “vile” treatment of the other animals kept at the zoo that the publication has called “sickening”:
“Elsewhere we witnessed many traumatised animals with their heads wedged into the corners of their tiny enclosures, and crocodiles kept in barely two feet of water.
“Rare green and loggerhead turtles swam in an algae-covered tank, which looked as though it had not been cleaned since former North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il “gifted” them to the zoo in 2001.
“Some of the huge turtles, apparently favoured by Jong-un, were seen being manhandled by a callous keeper, who grabbed them by their tails and tossed them into a putrid pool.
“On the other side of the park, a dozen seals packed into a tiny enclosure wailed with stress, a lion roared in torment while staring into the corner of his tiny cage, and a malnourished Bengal tiger paced maniacally.”
The publication added:
“A red-eared turtle, which we were told had special significance in Korea as it brought healing properties, lay in a small puddle of putrid water. It had so little liquid that its tiny head popped out from the surface as it lay on the floor.
“The conditions were so awful that algae had grown on its shell, weighing down its tiny frame.”
Animal welfare experts criticised the poor conditions the animals were kept in and pointed to stereotypical behaviours in the creatures that point to distress, noting that the animals showed “classic signs of torment” and that this is “one of the worst cases of psychological abuse of animals ever seen”.
Animal right organisation Born Free Foundation’s head Dr Chris Draper told reporters that the zoo was “totally inappropriate”. He added:
“Their cages are small, bare and there is no means of retreat from public view for them. It is most alarming to see the mother [tiger] and stillborn cub. There should’ve been a vet on the scene straight away.
“There should have been intervention prior to this horrendous situation and, at the very least, immediate action should have been taken after the birth to establish why it occurred.”
Dr Draper’s concerns were echoed by Humane Society International’s Wendy Higgins who told The Mirror journalists:
“This is a devastating, rare insight into the shockingly poor existence of animals at this zoo. [They] are confined to heartbreakingly small enclosures, often almost entirely barren, in which all they can do is pace or swim the same circular route.
“Tigers, lions, sea lions and turtles all have complex, specific environmental needs that are essential for their mental and physical well-being, and here we have a classic example of a facility that meets virtually none of those needs.
“It’s little wonder that we see big cats here demonstrating stereotypical repetitive cage pacing, classic signs of mental distress as the animals struggle to cope with the monotony and deprivation.
“This kind of zoo teaches nothing of the true nature of these animals because they exist as mere shadows of themselves.”
Reporters said that they were heartbroken to witness schoolchildren at the zoo being encouraged to get the animals’ attention by clapping loudly and shouting at the animals. This is “one of the worst things for a captive animal’s mental wellbeing,” according to experts.
The Mirror reported, “The desperate scene was at complete odds with a fable our guide told us, in which the animal was so respected for its amazing qualities that an army of 200,000 men had been instructed to find and take care of it.”