updated 12/26/2007 2:48:05 PM ET 2007-12-26T19:48:05

China has closed an understaffed zoo where a rare Siberian tiger was found beheaded and skinned last week and where seven tigers died in the last four years, state media reported Wednesday.

Forestry and police officials in Yichang city in Hubei province issued a directive closing the zoo and ordering it to take a range of measures to improve animal security and living conditions, the government's Xinhua News Agency said.

The order came after wildlife officials gave details of the seven deaths after the bodies of two stillborn Bengal tiger cubs were found over the weekend in a refrigerator at the Three Gorges Forest Wild Animal World in Yichang, Xinhua said.

Three tigers died of starvation in December 2003, and after that another four died of sickness or fight wounds, the report said.

Xinhua quoted Cao Guangyi, spokesman for the Yichang Forestry Bureau in Hubei province, as telling a news conference that the hides and bones of six of the tigers had been preserved in the zoo and that the other was at a research institute.

Last week, a female Siberian tiger was found dead at the zoo, with her skin, head and legs missing. Police are looking for the killers.

Among most endangered species
Tiger skins are sold on the black market in China, and tiger parts are used in traditional medicines.

Siberian tigers, also known as Amur tigers, are among the world's 10 most endangered species. They live in northeast China and the Russian Far East. Only 400 are thought to live in the wild.

There was no indication of foul play in the deaths of the cubs, who were stillborn on Nov. 28, but the forestry bureau said the zoo failed to follow regulations for disposing of animal bodies.

The 5-year-old, 100-acre zoo has more than 100 species of animals, including 15 tigers, five bears, six African lions, two wolves, 60 monkeys and some birds, according to Xinhua.

But it has only five employees who handle animal breeding, management and ticket sales, it said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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