TIANJIN, July 6 (Xinhua) -- A northern Chinese zoo has drawn protest from animal rights activists by putting up elephant shows that featured handstands and other "martial art" performances.
The Tianjin Zoo introduced two Asian elephants from the southern city of Shenzhen on May 21 to perform various stunts, including walking on "plum blossom stakes," apparently inspired by a similar kungfu exercise, and crossing a single-plank bridge, local media have reported earlier.
The zoo holds five shows a day on workday, which last for 20 minutes each, with extra rounds at weekends and holidays, says a post in the zoo. Visitors are charged 10 yuan (1.6 U.S. dollars) for entrance and another 60 yuan for photographing with the elephant, said Xinhua reporters at the site.
In one "handstand" performance, the elephant was driven onto iron stakes, lifted its hind legs and relied its body's weight on two forelegs.
Animal welfare campaigners have accused the zoo of violating a government ban on animal shows. The Nature University, an environment protection group, said they have filed a protest to the zoo and the city authority.
"Stunts like handstands, sitting and kneeling are unnatural for elephants and will cause serious physical and mental harms," said Hu Chunmei with the Nature University, citing her consultation with zoologists and vets.
The show also poses safety risks to the audience, as Hu said the elephants might run into rampage when forced into such stressful shows under scorching weather, while the zoo had not put in place sufficient protective measures.
In a reply to the group, the townscape planning authority of Tianjin that oversees the zoo said the show is a "behavioral training demonstration," which aims to promote knowledge among the public.
"We have not employed beating or abuse in the process, and the activity is not profit-driven," it said.
Attempts to reach the zoo for comments failed on Sunday.
China has observed boycotts and protests against animal shows in recent years, a sign of rising public awareness on animal welfare. Last year, a zoo in northeast China fired its circuses after reports that its tigers were tied up to allow tourists to take close-up pictures made splashes online.