The Gruesome World Of Harbin’s Siberian Tiger Park

Last updated on: 14 Comments
Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
A lady feeds a tiger through the mesh of a truck.

Hidden in the isolated terrain of Far East Russia, one of the world’s most almighty species roams under an ominous threat.

Poachers and deforestation have left the largest feline on the planet at a critical risk of extinction. With numbers in the wild dwindling below 500, the extraordinary Siberian tiger may not have long left in its natural habitat.

Across the border in Northern China, the situation is vastly different.

On the outskirts of Heilongjiang’s provincial capital, a controversial breeding facility claims to hold around 800 captive cats.

African Lions Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
Two African lions sit inside the park.

The Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin is a sprawling compound of around a million square metres, branding itself as a revolutionary sanctuary.

With an impressive collection of large cats from around the world, including African lions and pumas, it attracts thousands of tourists every year.

Unfortunately it is for an entirely different, and more chilling, reason that its popularity is soaring along with the numbers.

White Tiger
A white tiger paces inside its cage.

Under the guise of research and welfare, a harrowing form of entertainment has been created for the Chinese domestic tourist market.

Busloads of local holidaymakers flood the centre for the chance to feed live animals to the ravenous Siberian tigers. Chickens, goats and even cows are ordered from a simple menu, loaded into dump trucks and then thrown to the predators.

Menu Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
The ‘menu’ of the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park.

Enthused onlookers yell and cheer from the sidelines, while the petrified livestock are hunted and then consumed by up to twenty waiting cats. The bloodshed is immense. The shock factor is overwhelming.

There are two sections of the Siberian Tiger Park that are open to the public, and both offer opposing ideas on what really goes on at the zoo.

The large outdoor facility can only be accessed by driving around in caged passenger trucks, and gives the illusion of the Siberian Tiger Park being a wholesome habitat.

Huge fields of lush grass and leafy trees sprawl out between large, electrified fences. Various groups of tigers seem to be healthy and content, with ample space and shade to sleep during the heat of the day.

Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
A tiger rests in the grass.

Overcrowding is not an issue, but the skyscrapers of Harbin standing tall in the distance does remind visitors that the tigers are a long way from their native home.

Behind the safety of steel mesh, the trucks pass through Jurassic Park-style automated gates and into the packs of felines.

Each enclosure is segregated between particular species or age groups. Adolescent tigers are paired together, and full-grown African lions doze in their own stockade.

The live feeding takes place in these outdoor fields. The customers who pre-purchased a meal watch on in anticipated excitement to observe the tigers tear the luckless animals apart.

Meat Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
A lady dangles a strip of meat towards the tigers.

For those who prefer a more close-up experience, strips of beef are available to buy from a guide, which can then be hand fed to the cats through the truck’s mesh.

Jumping onto the wagon in hungry desperation, the tigers claw and chomp at the skewers, usually with the feeder prodding and teasing it in a horrible form of mild torture.

Feeding The Tigers
Feeding the tigers.

The driving tour lasts less than an hour, and during it you catch glimpses of smaller enclosures on the edge of the compound. But it is only once you reach the pedestrian section of the facility that the true realities of the zoo are revealed.

An elevated boardwalk meanders above a single grassy field that houses many large tigers. Vendors stand at different intervals, holding cages of live chickens.

They are all available to buy and push through a vent, where the tigers below will pounce and gorge on the birds. The sadistic feeding never stops for the amused tourists.

Dried-up pools are scattered throughout the area, surrounded by bare concrete. Smaller pens are left in shoddy states of disrepair, forcing overcrowding in the larger compounds.

Pool Tiger Park
A dried up pool in the park.

The final stretch of causeway contains views into the two most heart wrenching parts of the Siberian Tiger Park.

A row of narrow enclosures borders the fence, each barely a few metres wide and only slightly longer. A tiny hut punctuates the far side. No water or food can be seen. Here is where the exotic cats live in troubled turmoil.

Tiger Pens
The tiger pens.

A pair of pumas tries to hide in the shade while a neighbouring leopard paces back and forth. A rare white tiger is crammed into a corner.

The world’s largest liger, an intriguing genetic blend between a tiger and an African lion, circles its cage in depressing angst. This enormous beast is confined to a space that would be more suitable for a medium-sized dog.

Only metres from the exit, the park’s signature attraction garners the most attention: A Siberian tiger cub, only a few months old. Set in a circular pagoda, separated from the rest of the adult tigers, the cute cub is put on show for the entertainment of more paying customers.

Scared Tiger Cub
Two young locals pet the scared tiger cub.

For a minor fee, singles or groups are able to pet and hold the terrified baby, with no reservation and care considered. Its mother watches on from the other side of the wall, desperate, but unable to protect its infant.

The cub screams and tries to escape while tourists wildly handle it, posing for selfies and that “once in a lifetime” photo.

There is no requirement for gloves or face masks to be worn in order to save the young tiger from catching a disease. Park officials show little concern other than collecting money.

Selfie Tiger Cub
Taking a selfie with the tiger cub.

In terms of statistics, the Siberian Tiger Park has thrived in increasing the numbers of these glorious cats. Exact numbers are hard to confirm though: The on-site museum is remarkably void of information, and instead only displays pictures of Chinese celebrities and politicians holding tiger cubs.

Some argue that by allowing the tigers to actively hunt their prey, they are preparing them for future introduction into the wild. But the reality is that these tigers will never be released into the Siberian wilderness.

Their environment is too artificial to ensure survival, and there is too much money to be made by having them stay in Harbin.

Panthers Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
Two panthers sit in the door of their concrete pen.

The gruesome world inside the Siberian Tiger Park continues to run under the thin premise of conservation. Every day more busloads of Chinese tourists make the short drive from downtown Harbin to experience the cheap thrill of throwing live animals to the tigers.

The positive aspect of the rising numbers of Siberian tigers is being overshadowed by its unorthodox methods. But with more money to be made, will it every change?

This story was written by Jarryd Salem, and originally appeared on News.com.au.

Live Chickens Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
Live chickens in a cage, waiting to be fed to the cats.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. We just visited today. Personally, compared to many zoos around the world I have visited, this place was great.

    Huge open spaces for the cats which were clearly in a great shape (healthy fur, chubby for the winter, active…). On the bus, it was possible to get very close, and some people fed the tigers pieces of meat – quite honestly, I’ve always liked buying feed for animals at the zoos, so I thought it was a good way to make sure the tigers come up close, while feeding them something safe.

    Regarding small enclosures, yes, there is a big pavillion with small cages – part of it are breeding cages, and my understanding is the animals rotate in these areas so they still get to spend a lot of time in the vast open areas.

    As for life-feeding… honestly… I don’t mind. These animals eat life pray in the wild, why not in captivity… after all people watch discovery channel to see the predators catch the pray, not sleep. And if they can get money to give a life chicken, goat etc., seems like a win-win. Not sure why this is so “shocking” to you… even in western zoos you can often see feeding of life animals, and to some animals there is not even a different possibility… like snakes.

    Overall, I am more concerned about the e.g. selling of tiger bone for chinese medicine (which can help if done great to make poaching not worth it, but can harm if it helps legalize poached animals), and I would like to see some re-introduction to the wilderness.

    But honestly, compared to zoos which have a few exemplars of a rare animal and pretend to be “saving the species”, this place is actually large enough to potentially save the tiger populations… even if only by maintaining genetic diversity.

    And as far as facilities, this place is pretty good. Especially if compared to animal torture entertainment parks like the Chicago Zoo.

    This blog-post is incredibly one-sided, and not entirely written from the same perspective that I witnessed. I was there only a few days ago. Yes, you are allowed to hold the cubs, but there are safety measures in place, such as gloves. One person even attempted to kiss the cub on the head and the staff rushed in to stop them. Yes, there are small outside enclosures, but the conditions for the cats on the inside is unknown. Yes, I did see people “teasing” the cats with the bait food; that’s just moronic human behavior. Yes, there are “menus” for visitors to purchase live animals to throw into the enclosures. No, I didn’t see people yelling and cheering. No, the blood shed wasn’t immense, nor was there any shock factor (you make is sound like one needs to wear raincoats to protect personal clothing), hungry desperation, or dried up pools. Even so, overall, the cats seemed content and healthy. None looked like they were starved, unkempt, or lacking of basic health. There were countless big cats in various “Jurassic Park style enclosures” that are continually interacting with tour busses roaming, sitting, playing. Some of the animals were so disinterested in the food being dangled from the bus that they didn’t even as much lift there heads or open their eyes. Furthermore, I am near certain that you are not fluent with the language, so therefore cannot possibly understand the nuisance of the locale to the fullest extent, even with the digging. I do agree that it’s a tourist location, and meant to make money, as zoos are generally prone to do. I completely understand that these animals should be allowed to roam free in their natural habitat, but I am certain that their numbers wouldn’t be nearly as high as they are in the park. Even if you disagree with their methods, the population of tigers within has nearly doubled since the park opened in 1996. Without places such as this, the population of Siberian Tigers would be almost decimated. I will say that after seeing these incredible beasts up close I have a new found respect for the animal. They are predators, and killing live animals is in their nature; it allows them to keep their base instincts, even if it is a fabricated environment. It’s not as if they are domesticated and you can serve up a bowl a kibble from a trough for them.

      What is the point in breeding these animals just for the sake of upping the numbers. The only way to truly save a species is to protect their natural habitat and encourage true conservation. These animals in Harbin are bred purely for human entertainment and it’s sickening. Animal protection laws don’t exist in China. It is naive to believe breeding an animal in captivity is a good way of protecting a species.

    Hi Nomadasaurus

    I do get your concern of the welfare and health of these animals. But what would u propose?
    1)Giving them larger enclosures? Like you said, they have over hundreds of animals under their care, and that would mean even more space is needed, and more man power. If we were to give each tiger their ideal roaming space, we will need thousands of square kilometre for the numbers they have.
    2) these animals need alot of food. like… A lOT. If they do not push for tourist to come visit, pay the fees, participate in feeding to relieve the costs.. These animals would go hungry.
    3) release them into the wild? let’s face it, with human encroachment, deforestation and just increasing number of tourist/ people in general.. this animals have a better shot of survival living in their less than ideal ‘homes’ than to be in the wild and get hunted/ trapped.

    I see your sentiment, and i agree things can be improved. It isn’t perfect but it is keeping the animal safe, and giving them the edge to battle against extinction. This is the same problem i have with those condemning the Oslob whale shark feeding, and many other animal protection program.

    But i rly love ur website =) thanks!

    We went to this facility about 8 years ago when we were in Harbin for my wife’s birthday. While we did see the ‘menu’ of items you could purchase, we never saw anyone actually purchasing things to feed the tigers. We were there in February so it is possible that there is not much of that going on. We did feel horrible for the animals that were out in the cold and it was well below zero degrees F. when we were there. Many were clustered together in groups of 10-15 trying to keep warm.

      Hi Chuck and Kathy, so glad you both didn’t see the live eating when you were there. Unfortunately it is a big attraction now at the park and many buy live animals to feed to the tigers. They say it is a research park but we dug around and could not find any evidence at all, just a room filled with photos of famous Chinese people holding tigers. We felt the park was not in it for the tiger’s well-being, just the money coming in the door. We hope you both had a great trip in China.

    Wow, this is just sad, exploiting animals for profit again. Thanks for keeping us informed.

      I know. We hope things change there but I know it will not happen fast. Thanks for reading Rob.

    Thank you for highlighting the horrors of this animal ‘attraction’. :'( The tourism industry needs to wake up and ban such operators. Please do carry more posts about responsible tourism like this. Thank you for what you’re doing.

    What a tragedy. Can only hope by drawing attention to issues like this that there might be the start of a push for change. An excellent article Jazza.

    We had exactly the same thoughts when we visited this place, we are not zoo people and it was a very difficult one for us to decide if we want to visit the park and there was not much about it online too that would make us avoid it.

    In the end we thought, lets see how it is, at least to get an idea of it ourselves first hand.

    We went in Jan, and it was winter, so did not see the dried up ponds and barren lands, but the thing that hit us most was the excessive and gory feeding of live animals, we only had poor chickens being thrown out by the ranger, lucky us, it was not sheep or cow, but it definitely was not a balanced diet either, in all it was overfeeding, we felt.

    It was nice to see such wonderful cats up close, but all other aspects of it are not worth it to mandate a trip.
    Given a chance we would have avoided it, it was definitely a tourist setup, and for the cats to be freed into the wilderness later, we don’t know.

      You guys know exactly what we are talking about. All those live animals being feed to them for entertainment and profit. It is a crazy and such a sad experience. We thought by writing this article people would become aware of the place and not go. Thanks for reading 🙂

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