Father defends girl's stunt with wolves

Updated: 2012-04-09 07:41

By Shao Wei in Urumqi (China Daily)

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Xinjiang animal trainer says his daughter was in no danger in cage

It is a sight that would terrify almost any parent: Their child locked inside a cage with large predators.

Not for Zhu Yongsheng. In fact, it would be no surprise to find the recent pictures of his daughter locked in with wolves plastered in a family photo album under the words "happy memories".

Father defends girl's stunt with wolves

Zhu Yongsheng and his daughter Zhu Lin cuddle a wolf at the family's animal training base in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on April 8, 2012. [Zhang Wande / for China Daily]

The animal trainer has faced a storm of criticism for a stunt on April 1 that saw 10-year-old Zhu Lin, clad only in army fatigues, play with - and even kiss - the beasts in front of an audience at a dog show in Northwest China.

Many people reacted angrily after seeing images of the performance online, with some accusing Zhu Yongsheng of child abuse.

"The father is the trainer, so he should be the one in the cage," read one typical post on Sina Weibo, the popular micro-blogging website. "She (his daughter) will be damaged both physically and mentally for a lifetime."

However, father and daughter have both strongly dismissed any claim that the stunt was risky, suggesting that the furor has stemmed from misinformation in the media.

"They (the wolves) are my brothers," Zhu Lin said on Saturday.

As she spoke, she scratched behind the ear of one of the 2-year-old wolves she was pictured with. Both have been with the family since they were pups. "We're very close. They know me."

Like most girls her age, she is an avid reader and enjoys sports. However, she added, working with animals "is far more fun than school".

Her father keeps about 50 dogs and 10 wolves at his training base in southern Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Of course, working with wild animals always carries a certain amount of danger, Zhu Lin conceded.

"I can't remember how many times I've been bitten by my 'brothers' during exercises," the young trainer said. "The pain usually only lasts for a few minutes, and their teeth marks just look like those left by an electric cattle prod."

Bites are a natural part of the job, according to her father.

"The wolves bite us differently than if they were to attack a stranger," he said, as he pointed out a small scratch on his finger that had only moments before been caused by one of his animals.

"It (the wolf that bit him) doesn't like strangers," he said as way of explanation. "It wasn't a real attack, it was just a nip to show its irritation."

Zhu Lin said that the first time she was bitten was when she hugged the elder of the two wolves she helped rear.

However, she added that the animals can be "very frightening sometimes", recalling an incident in which her mother was mauled by one of her "brothers".

"She was feeding them and they started to fight. One of them accidentally bit my mother's leg," the girl said. "She needed 13 stitches and two weeks in hospital. I remember her cloth shoes were full of blood."

Wolf totem

Yet, Zhu Yongsheng still insisted that his daughter was in no danger on April 1.

"Some media inaccurately said ... that I cruelly locked my daughter in with fierce animals on a whim," he said. "They were wrong. Zhu Lin has dealt with wolves since she was very young. She is a capable wolf trainer.

"I know a lot of people have criticized me. But I love my daughter very much. I just want to make her strong."

Experts such as Xu Fei, a psychologist at Xinjiang Normal University, and Gao Mingxue, director of the Urumqi Xikang Psychological Counseling Center, both told China Daily that they advise against harsh parenting methods, which have become a hot topic in recent years due to the emergence of "tiger moms" and "wolf dads".

"Parents have a direct influence on a child's development. They should not impose their own interests on their children," Gao said.

Zhu Yongsheng disagreed, however, saying his parenting method is "completely correct". He added that he believes his daughter is far more prepared for the rigors of the world than other children.

"I can sense she is happy rather than under pressure," he said. "We get along well. I rarely force her to study as ordinary parents do.

"Although wolves are fierce animals, they have other characteristics, too. They are loyal and clever. I believe my family can live in harmony with them."

Shen Xiaoxi, a counselor of 11 years in Urumqi, suggested people should be more objective when they look at the father's actions.

"Thanks to his vocation, he (Zhu) is teaching his daughter to be a wolf trainer to demonstrate that fierce animals like wolves can be socialized and tamed," she said. "It's radical to say this father has abused his child."

Mao Weihua contributed to this story.