BEIJING Visitors to Beijing zoo are warned not to feed the animals, but they are encouraged to eat them at a restaurant that offers crocodile and scorpion on its exotic menu.

After watching the beasts in their cages, diners at the zoo's restaurant can gnaw on the webbed toes of a hippopotamus, chew a kangaroo tail, or slurp down a bowl of ant soup.

The sale of the dishes has caused outrage since it was reported by the Legal Daily newspaper earlier this week, with conservationists condemning the practice.

“It is utterly inappropriate for a zoo to sell such items,” said Ge Rui of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “One of the zoo's missions is to foster love of animals and a desire to protect them. But by selling the meat of caged beasts, this zoo stimulates consumption and increases pressure on the animals in the wild. It is socially irresponsible.”

Chang Jiwen, a legal expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences who is trying to draft an animal protection law, said “Although it is legal, I don't think it is humanitarian. It is very inappropriate and immoral of them to sell such products. It is against the aim of the zoo.”

Online comment was also predominantly critical. “Watching animals imprisoned in a limited space while eating their siblings, how would you feel?” wrote Zheng Yuanjie, a famous Chinese writer, in his microblog.

The owners of the Bin Feng Tang restaurant were unwilling to comment to the Guardian, but they have told domestic media that the meat was from exotic animal farms and its sale had been going on for several years with the full approval of the authorities.In the wake of the negative coverage, however, staff said they would be revising the menu, which also includes set dishes of scorpion, peacock, ostrich egg, shark fin soup and other delicacies for between 100 and 1,000 yuan.

The criticism is a sign of changing times. In the past, notices on each of the zoo's animal cages included information about which parts were the tastiest and most useful according to traditional Chinese medicine. Those details have now been omitted.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service