by Ian Gallagher
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2001 Associated New Media
The honey-coloured cat gasped for air, its face squashed
against the wire mesh of the cage. After several minutes it managed to
jerk its head away, only to sink back and be lost among the tightly
packed mass of fur formed by bodies of other cats piled on top of one
This pitiful spectacle is repeated time and time again
at a market in southern China where hundreds of cats - just like our own
domestic pets - languish before being killed and eaten.
In China, cats are reared for one reason: to be devoured
at restaurants by customers who pride themselves on their exotic tastes.
In some cases, the wretched creatures spend up to two
months squeezed 25 at a time inside cages which measure just 2ft by 3ft.
Many die before they reach their final destination.
Such cruelty - inconceivable in the West - is becoming
increasingly commonplace in China. To many people here, keeping cats as
cherished pets is an act of folly.
We saw the appalling scenes at Guangzhou - the capital
of the southeastern province of Guangdong and one of China's most
affluent cities. At the Xin Yuan market just outside the city, the
traders are unmoved by the animals' obvious distress and do the minimum
necessary to keep them alive.
Their only concern is that the cats might die while in
their hands, because that will cost them money. The Mail on Sunday found
hundreds of cats on display, all crammed inside cages stacked, in some
cases, 12ft high.
One trader, Yanwu Peng, eagerly proffered his business
'Supplier of cats to fine restaurants and hotels.'
He sat on a plastic chair, his feet resting on one of
the cages containing around 30 cats. If in the past they had tried to
struggle, they were now submissive. There was an occasional, barely
perceptible, flicker of movement - the only indication that any of them
were still alive.
Beside Mr Peng lay a green gauze bag through which three
more cats could be seen. They had been set aside, he explained, for one
of his regular customers, a restaurant owner. If he is fortunate, Mr
Peng will sell the caged cats within a few days, although he boasts that
he can keep them alive for 'a month, maybe two' if necessary.
He sells the cats to restaurant owners for about £1 per
pound, less if they are bought in bulk. They are fed once a day on a
mixture of rice and animal feed.
Yesterday, the prospect of food didn't - as might be
expected - prompt an excited response.
Because of their weakened state Mr Peng had to push the
cats towards the bowls and in doing so he discovered that one was dead.
He picked it up by its tail, wrapped it in a carrier bag and discarded
it at the back of his stall.
One of the few Westerners who have visited the market is
Jill Robinson, director of the charity Animals Asia Foundation. She
said: 'It is a sea of cruelty. The smell lingered on my clothes
afterwards and the sights I witnessed stayed in my mind for days. I was
in a state of shock.
'The cats were piled on top of each other in a
horrifying way. They were defecating and urinating on each other. It was
so miserable. I have never seen so many animals in one place at once.'
The cats come from the countryside and are raised by
villagers as a cheap and easy way of making extra money. They keep them
indoors with long pieces of nylon string tied around their necks.
Because eating kittens is considered bad luck, they wait
until the cats are more than 12 months old before selling them either
directly to the markets or to 'middlemen' such as Yei Kung who owns the
Wildlife Farm Shop just outside the town of Nanhai near Guangzhou.
Mr Kung, who buys a ton of cat meat a week, tours the
villages in a van and collects the animals in wooden crates before
piling them into a huge cage in his shed.
He said: 'My farm shop acts as a halfway house. They
stay here for just a few days before I sell them to the markets.' His
biggest problem is getting the cats to the markets alive - around 10 per
cent are lost along the way.
'It is essential that the cats are moved from the farm
as soon as possible,' he said. 'They are never in my shop for more than
a few days. As soon as they begin their journey they lose weight and
many die. To make money I must keep them alive.'
Even after the cats are bought at market - usually taken
away in mesh nets and plastic bags - they are often forced to endure
several days' more agony at the Da Long Shu Cat Restaurant. The cats are
stored in a cupboard, jokingly referred to by the staff as the 'waiting
room'. Sometimes they remain there for days.
Every evening they are moved to cages outside the
restaurant and customers are invited to select the one that takes their
fancy. The chef then kills the cat of their choice by cutting its
One restaurant owner in Guangzhou said: 'Cat meat is
very often the least expensive dish. Our customers want something
special so that's why dishes like cats' eyes and testicles are the most
expensive. Basically we eat all of the cat. Another popular dish is
stir-fried cats' paws with garlic.'
Animals Asia Foundation believe renewed interest in
eating cat is linked to the upturn in the economic fortunes of
Guangdong, the most prosperous province in China.
'People have more money in their pockets now, so for
many these so-called delicacies have become affordable,' said Robinson.
'Eating cat is probably more popular in the southeast than anywhere else
but increasingly we are finding that it is on the menu all over China.'
Thanks to her charity, the authorities are being pressed
to introduce animal welfare legislation to combat the trade. 'A few
years ago,' she said, 'animal welfare was a term that no one had heard
of here. But gradually people are becoming more receptive.
'It will be a slow process but we hope that things will
change in the future. People have got to learn that cats are
companionable animals and have a far greater role in society than being
Go on to Encourage
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