BEERWAH, Australia – With creatures great and small around him, the Dalai Lama called Wednesday for a halt to lab experiments on animals and made the case for eating only fruits and vegetables – all at the zoo of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
The spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists delicately handled a Burmese python and petted a koala as he was feted like a rock star at Australia Zoo, speaking to a sold-out crowd of 5,000 at its open-air “Crocoseum.”
“Hunting, beef, sheep farms, piggeries, millions, billions, die,” the Dalai Lama said. “We can be so cruel to animals.”
Although he sometimes sparked laughter with his remarks, the Dalai Lama’s 30-minute address also had a more serious note: He criticized companies and organizations that he said “remain indifferent” to the rights of animals by experimenting on them.
Irwin, host of the TV wildlife show “Crocodile Hunter,” died last September when the barb from a stingray pierced his chest while he was diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Dalai Lama thanked Irwin’s family for their support of wildlife.
“Taking care of animals is essential to developing more happiness in human beings,” he said. “I appreciate Steve Irwin and his wife Terri, all their dedication.”
The hourlong zoo tour was a change for the Dalai Lama, whose trip to Australia has prompted lawmakers to express concern about meetings with the man China considers an exiled troublemaker.
After weeks of hedging, Prime Minister John Howard agreed to see the Dalai Lama on Friday. Howard is anxious not to offend Beijing because Australia’s economy is closely tied to China’s booming demand for natural resources. China, which rules Tibet, has used diplomatic pressure to discourage governments from meeting with the Dalai Lama, and Beijing immediately criticized Howard’s decision to see him.