The gist: Eleven endangered Siberian tigers died in a Shenyang zoo after being fed nothing but chicken bones for the past three months. Two other starving tigers were shot and killed after they attacked a zoo employee. Some zoos may be deliberately breeding more tigers than they can care for, in order to sell the carcasses on the black market, where they will fetch a high price as ingredients in traditional medicine.
We've all commented on the terrible conditions in Chinese zoos and even speculated about the black market ties, and unfortunately I can't say that I'm totally surprised that this has happened. The lack of oversight and mistreatment of the animals is indicative of a greater problem that, as far as I can tell, seems to be growing - the inability of the growing middle class to manage wealth. From my own limited experiences, it seem like people are getting far richer far more quickly than they ever were in the past, and no one - not the government or the average citizen - knows what to do with the newfound wealth. This can manifest itself in innocuous ways, like flashing name brands or being herded around on "vacations" that shuttle tourists from photo op to photo op because one believes that someone with money and some leisure time should go on "vacation."
However, an inability to manage wealth can also manifest itself in much more dangerous ways, such as the glut of luxury cars being driven by people who have never taken a driving course, or the increasing number of newly-rich entrepreneurs who choose to save their money because they have no idea how to invest it. The deaths of the tigers are another example: the economic situation of the citizens of Shenyang was likely mirrored in their city government, which is a part-owner. The government followed the examples set by other developed countries and wagered that families with disposable incomes would enjoy visiting a zoo, so they built one - without any idea how to care for the endangered animals housed therein or any clue as to how to manage such a large-scale operation. The zoo subsequently went broke, and the owners resorted to killing the animals to get a loan.
This kind of inability to manage wealth, combined with a lack of government oversight and codification of standards, has created a number of other disasters: some have already occurred, like the devastation the earthquake wrought on the poorly-designed high-rise apartment and office buildings in Sichuan, and some are still looming, like the environmental degradation caused by giant factories that churn out billions of yuan worth of products but lack any kind of real oversight. It's difficult to see when and how any of this will change, especially because any real oversight is impossible when local governments - like the city government that is a part-owner of the zoo - have no power to make radical policy changes without first vetting the changes through the Party machine.
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