China’s Family-Run Circuses, Tiger Farmers Jobless Due to New Regulations

Once known as China’s circus town, Haogou township of Suzhou city, Anhui Province, has a relatively long history of family-run circuses. At its peak, there were over 400 circuses, 20,000 employees, and a combined annual income as high as 400 million yuan (about $63 million). Nearly one-third of the local rural residents made a living by running circuses. Now, they are all struggling because of Beijing’s new animal rules that hit particularly hard on the upkeep of tigers and tiger performances. Many circus families in Suzhou inherited the business and the animal taming skills from their ancestors. Even the animals are descendants of tigers raised by their ancestors. This circus town was thriving in the early 2000s. But in 2017, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued and enforced “Zoo Management Regulations,” which stipulated that “zoos should not use wild animals for performances” and “wild animals should not be used as props for commercial activities.” Then, in the second half of 2018, Chinese authorities issued an ordinance to strengthen the management and control of business operations involving tigers and their products, such as tiger skins, bones, and organs. Since then, tigers, lions, and other beasts have disappeared from the circus stages, and the circus market in Suzhou has rapidly shrunk. Qin Yue (pseudonym), a tiger keeper in Yongqiao district of Suzhou, told the Chinese language Epoch Times that he has a license for raising tigers, which are categorized as special species for breeding, and the tigers can be sold to a zoo. The local government pays 500 yuan (about $79) per tiger, which covers monthly expenses. Qin’s family previously had more than 30 tigers, almost all of which were sold to the local zoo for a low price. There are still two tigers waiting to be sold, but there have been no buyers as zoos are also struggling financially amid the pandemic. He revealed that some locals secretly rent tigers to circuses. But if they are caught, they will be fined or even sentenced to prison. Some tiger keepers, desperate because they have elderly tigers at home, secretly slaughtered the animals and sold their skins and other parts for profit. They were sentenced to prison after they were discovered. The average lifespan of a tiger in captivity is about 20 years. Qin told the publication that raising tigers is a costly business as tigers eat a lot of meat. Moreover, when they get sick, the owner has to spend money on veterinarian treatment. Qin’s cousin is also a tiger keeper. He made money in the past when tigers were allowed to perform. But now, when tigers can’t perform and are forbidden to be killed, the cousin’s family is losing money. His wife and son have to work as migrant workers in another city, sending money back home to keep the tigers alive. Liu (pseudonym), a circus worker from Yongqiao district of Suzhou, told The Epoch Times that his current income is much less than before due to the disappearance of large-sized beast performers. “Most performing animals nowadays are monkeys, ponies, goats, and the like, and oftentimes they jointly perform with an acrobatic troupe,” he said. The pandemic has made things more difficult. Liu said there are fewer and fewer opportunities for circus groups to perform. Many of them only get invited to weddings or funeral ceremonies. Epoch Times reporter Kane Zhang contributed to this report. Follow

China’s Family-Run Circuses, Tiger Farmers Jobless Due to New Regulations

Once known as China’s circus town, Haogou township of Suzhou city, Anhui Province, has a relatively long history of family-run circuses.

At its peak, there were over 400 circuses, 20,000 employees, and a combined annual income as high as 400 million yuan (about $63 million). Nearly one-third of the local rural residents made a living by running circuses.

Now, they are all struggling because of Beijing’s new animal rules that hit particularly hard on the upkeep of tigers and tiger performances.

Many circus families in Suzhou inherited the business and the animal taming skills from their ancestors. Even the animals are descendants of tigers raised by their ancestors.

This circus town was thriving in the early 2000s. But in 2017, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued and enforced “Zoo Management Regulations,” which stipulated that “zoos should not use wild animals for performances” and “wild animals should not be used as props for commercial activities.”

Then, in the second half of 2018, Chinese authorities issued an ordinance to strengthen the management and control of business operations involving tigers and their products, such as tiger skins, bones, and organs.

Since then, tigers, lions, and other beasts have disappeared from the circus stages, and the circus market in Suzhou has rapidly shrunk.

Qin Yue (pseudonym), a tiger keeper in Yongqiao district of Suzhou, told the Chinese language Epoch Times that he has a license for raising tigers, which are categorized as special species for breeding, and the tigers can be sold to a zoo. The local government pays 500 yuan (about $79) per tiger, which covers monthly expenses.

Qin’s family previously had more than 30 tigers, almost all of which were sold to the local zoo for a low price. There are still two tigers waiting to be sold, but there have been no buyers as zoos are also struggling financially amid the pandemic.

He revealed that some locals secretly rent tigers to circuses. But if they are caught, they will be fined or even sentenced to prison.

Some tiger keepers, desperate because they have elderly tigers at home, secretly slaughtered the animals and sold their skins and other parts for profit. They were sentenced to prison after they were discovered.

The average lifespan of a tiger in captivity is about 20 years.

Qin told the publication that raising tigers is a costly business as tigers eat a lot of meat. Moreover, when they get sick, the owner has to spend money on veterinarian treatment.

Qin’s cousin is also a tiger keeper. He made money in the past when tigers were allowed to perform. But now, when tigers can’t perform and are forbidden to be killed, the cousin’s family is losing money. His wife and son have to work as migrant workers in another city, sending money back home to keep the tigers alive.

Liu (pseudonym), a circus worker from Yongqiao district of Suzhou, told The Epoch Times that his current income is much less than before due to the disappearance of large-sized beast performers.

“Most performing animals nowadays are monkeys, ponies, goats, and the like, and oftentimes they jointly perform with an acrobatic troupe,” he said.

The pandemic has made things more difficult. Liu said there are fewer and fewer opportunities for circus groups to perform. Many of them only get invited to weddings or funeral ceremonies.

Epoch Times reporter Kane Zhang contributed to this report.

Olivia Li

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