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Cat Fight Over China's Feline Meat Trade
By Holly Williams, from SkyNews.com
"It cost me seven Renminbi a pound," a man told me, pointing at a hessian sack. He had paid about 70p for cat meat at a southern China market.
In China, the trade in live cat meat thrives but there is growing opposition
As we chatted, the bag seemed to move by itself, emitting a plaintive 'meowing' sound.
The man had just bought four live cats, which he told me he had served up later that day to diners in his restaurant.
In China, the trade in live cat meat is thriving. By some estimates, 10 000 cats are sold and eaten every day in one city alone - mainly served up as kebabs or in Chinese-style hotpot.
Yet, as we filmed a row of cat traders in the market, they decided they didn't want us there. Thrusting their hands in the camera, a group of them wrestled us onto the street.
In another market, a cat dealer even attacked us with a wooden stick.
"Get lost," he shouted at me after seeing our camera. "You foreigners stay out of China's business."
Cats on their way to the market
For many Chinese people - especially in the country's south - eating cat is a perfectly normal tradition.
We visited a restaurant in the city of Guangzhou that specialises in what the Chinese call 'wild taste'.
The waitress showed us cages full of live animals - turtles, snakes, pheasants and domesticated cat.
A chef tried to sell us a dish called Dragon, Tiger, Phoenix - a stew of snake, pheasant and cat meat.
But now, the eating of cat meat has become a cultural battleground in China as animal rights activists face off against traditionalists.
It is also highlighted divisions between China's new middle class - for whom having a pet is a status symbol - against those here who are themselves struggling to survive, and see no need for animal rights.
Cat protection groups have sprung up in cities across China.
Frustrated by their government, they stage their own raids - storming into restaurants and markets, attempting to shame people out of eating cat.
Sky News has obtained video footage from one recent raid near Shanghai, where campaigners tried to hold up a truck-load of cats being shipped to market.
They released traumatized animals from cramped wooden crates, while a horrified crowd looked on. But when the police arrived, they backed the cat dealer.
In China, there is no law at all against animal cruelty. The trader even had a certificate to prove what he was doing was legal.
Sky News accompanied another group of campaigners to a village butcher known to sell cat meat. They carried cages hoping to rescue any animals they found alive.
But when we got there it was too late. All the butcher had in stock were four cats that had already been killed, skinned and frozen.
As the campaigners attempted to confiscate her knives and meat hooks, I asked what she felt as she butchered the cats. "Nothing at all," she replied.
What makes it worse for Chinese cat lovers is that many of the animals sold for their meat are not farmed, but stolen from their owners.
I met with a group of people who told me they had all lost pet cats to thieves who trap and sell them for their meat.
"Barbarians. They're barbarians," said Wu Xue, whose cat disappeared from her doorstep late last year. "Otherwise, how could they eat cat meat?"
The Chinese have been eating cat for centuries but the practice has now opened a wound in this country, pitting those who believe it must end against others who say it is simply part of Chinese culture.
To see a graphic video of the cat meat trade, go here. To see images of other ways cats are brutalized by humans, visit our image gallery.
To help end this brutality against all animals, go vegan!
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