A Chinese tiger park has sought to quell public anger after images of holidaymakers sitting astride a strapped-down cub prompted outrage online, state media said Tuesday.
Pictures taken at a Siberian tiger park in northwest China's Jilin province showed visitors posing for photos while sitting on top of a tiger cub tied to a wooden table, the state-run Global Times reported.
Video footage has also emerged from another animal park in Zhejiang province in the east, showing a tiger strapped to a bench while a man sat on top of it, bouncing up and down and slapping the tiger's head.
The incidents provoked outrage on China's popular social networking site Sina Weibo. "Humans gradually evolve into beasts," one user said, while another added: "Humans have reached a new level of insanity."
Authorities at the Jilin park said the abused cub was not among the animals it cares for, according to the Global Times, insisting that it belonged instead to an animal troupe that the park hired to stage performances for visitors.
The park said it had terminated its contract with the troupe and penalised its director 5,000 yuan ($800) over the incident, the report said.
China says it has thousands of tigers in captivity, and its cold northeast is home to the rare Siberian tiger, of which only 450 remain in the wild, according to the WWF.
The WWF warned in 2010 that the tiger faced extinction in the wild in China after having been devastated by poaching and the destruction of its natural habitat.
China has no laws specifically against cruelty to animals and zoo visitors and staff are sometimes able to abuse captive creatures without sanction.
Endangered species are sometimes kept as trophy pets and the country is widely considered a key destination for the global illegal wildlife trade.