The Guangzhou Zoo in Guangdong province will seek help from law enforcement agencies, local industries and commerce authorities to shut down performances by a circus troupe after the troupe's operator refused to stop.
The zoo informed the troupe in July that it would not renew its contract when it expired at the end of August, the zoo said in a statement on Monday. It plans to use the circus venue to build a scientific exhibition centre.
But the circus operator continued to sell tickets for shows.
The venue was leased to the circus operator in 1993. Shows have been performed six times a day for more than 24 years.
Huang Yingzhi of Anhui province, who heads the circus, said the troupe received notice on Aug 14 to close the show.
"As much as we do not want to leave, we probably have to because the zoo has made the announcement public. We are still discussing our future with the zoo. The zoo has offered to help transport the animals," Huang was reported as saying by Xinhua News Agency.
"We still have about 70 animals - monkeys, bears, tigers, gorillas and parrots - and our employees refuse to leave, insisting there is no reason to close the circus."
Performances feature monkeys riding bikes, gorillas playing drums and bears doing headstands on high-rise bars.
"More than 13 million people from around the country have watched the shows in the past 24 years, and audience numbers have not fallen off in recent years," Huang told Xinhua. As long as there is an audience, the show will continue, a worker with the troupe added.
But at one performance, which started at 4 pm on Tuesday, only nine people were watching.
A notice at the zoo's ticket office tells visitors not to attend the show, but another notice posted by the zoo outside the venue was covered with red ink and couldn't be read.
Circuses have been opposed by animal rights advocates, as some have allegedly abused animals.
Zoo director Li Xingrong said the zoo's aim is to show animals in the most natural state possible - which doesn't include doing tricks.
"In recent years, we have installed facilities to improve the activities and living conditions of the animals," Li said.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a guideline in 2010 banning State-owned zoos from hosting circus performances featuring animals, but such shows continue to go on in many zoos across the country, said Sun Quanhui, a senior Chinese scientific consultant for World Animal Protection, citing investigations by the media and other organisations.
Traditionally, it was a zoo's primary function to display animals and entertain visitors. However, modern zoos should shoulder more social responsibility, especially in scientific education and animal protection, in light of social progress and awareness of the public.
Stopping circus shows indicates not only respect for animals but a path zoos must take to regain their public interest, he said.
Visitors have mixed feelings about the closure of the circus.
"The animal shows bring excitement to children and are loved by them," said a mother surnamed Chen.
But Hu Yaoyang, a white-collar worker in Guangzhou, said the shows should have been shut down long ago because they mistreat animals for profit.