Yancheng-A group of angry zoo investors have fed a live donkey to tigers at a Chinese zoo after a dispute with management.

The incident took place on Monday afternoon at Yancheng city in Jiangsu province in front of stunned visitors.

The zoo said the shareholders had tossed the donkey to the tigers “in a fit of rage”, and apologised to the public for the incident. Video clips and photos of the incident have gone viral on Chinese social media, triggering shocked reactions.

The donkey is seen being pushed out of a truck into a moat in the tigers’ enclosure, where it is quickly set upon by the tigers. Zoo visitors can be heard exclaiming in the background.

Representatives at the Yancheng Safari Park declined to answer queries from the BBC. But in statements (in Chinese) released on its Sina Weibo microblogging account, the zoo said the incident stemmed from a legal case between the zoo and another company. The case led a court to freeze the zoo’s assets two years ago. This meant that it could not sell its animals and its “investment finances shrank”, it said. Several animals, including two giraffes and a chimpanzee, also died because the zoo could not obtain permits to transport them elsewhere for medical treatment. Its shareholders were “filled with anger for a long time” as they were unable to receive returns on their investments, and were also upset about the animals’ deaths.

They suspected that the zoo, together with the court, were “conspiring to cheat small investors of their investments, and so in a fit of rage, decided to feed donkeys and sheep... to tigers”, said the management. Newspaper Xiandai Kuaibao (in Chinese) said that after the donkey was pushed in, zoo staff managed to stop the shareholders from tossing sheep into the moat. One investor told news outlet The Paper (in Chinese) that they wanted to recoup their losses, and planned on transporting the animals out of the zoo to sell them elsewhere. But the zoo’s security guards stopped them, and the investors reacted angrily.

“Since we could not have any benefits, we thought why not feed to the tigers, at least we can save on animal feed,” the unnamed investor said.

The zoo said it was “deeply sorry” and that it would ensure that “a similar incident would never happen again”.

It added that it was working to resolve its legal woes and address shareholders’ concerns.