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21 March 2001 Issue
The Cat Meat Trade in China

by Ian Gallagher

Find this story at:
http://www.femail.co.uk/pages/standard/article.html?in_article_id=29575&in_page_id=2 

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 another.

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 card stating:
'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 throat.

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 simply food.'

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