On Monday reports from animal rights advocates in Vietnam confirmed that the hundreds of live cats intercepted by police as they were being smuggled into the country from China last Tuesday have been killed by the government. Initial reports indicated that the cats might have been buried alive. But this morning Le Duc Chinh of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance revealed to the Daily Mail that environmental protection officials hired a dump truck to crush the cats under its wheels while they sat locked in their cages. The animals were buried near the Kieu Ky waste treatment area under police surveillance.
"The cats were buried and covered with lime because of concerns that they might spread disease in the capital," the Daily Mail quoted Le Duc Chinh as saying. "Many of the cats had died during the long trip from china."
"I was appalled and asked them why they did this to the surviving cats, but the officials insisted they were following the law, which says they should destroy animals immediately if they do not have health-check certificates. I checked with waste company Binh Minh who buried the cats. They said they killed all the cats and then they buried them."
Originally intended for delivery to restaurants in Hanoi or nearby provinces for consumption as part of Vietnam's illegal yet growing market for cat meat , many had hoped that police would ignore regulations about the destruction of smuggled goods and save the cats ( many of them stolen pets ) by finding them treatment and new homes. This hope was likely boosted by the government's overtures to promote cats as pets (not food) to help with urban vermin outbreaks.
Yet if alternatives were considered, fear of disease spread from the uninspected, foreign felines—and the precedent of regularly destroying smuggled chickens —squelched them.
"Several of [the cats] had died," the Guardian quoted a Da Dong district (where the cats were intercepted) environmental official as saying. "There was a terrible smell that could affect the environment and carried risks of further diseases. Therefore we culled them by burying them."
"Vietnamese authorities were especially concerned with rabies, fungal skin diseases, and typhoid fever," Dana Laurence of the Wisconsin-based Global Conservation Group 's Cruelty Investigation Department, which has been receiving reports on the incident from and coordinating with local animal rights advocates throughout the cats' saga, told VICE.
Culls of smuggled or feral animals, including cats, for environmental or health reasons are not uncommon around the world. Many such campaigns or responses involve guns or veterinary euthanization. But even culls involving crushing or live burial are not entirely unprecedented, although they seem to be sparked by a sense of urgency, panic, or the need for last-resort action.
"I can say we've had cases similar to this," says Laurence. "For example, in 2010, South Korea buried 1.4 million pigs alive to contain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease."
Yet it's unclear why Vietnamese authorities chose to use such brutal methods. Even those who approved of culling the cats would have preferred to see them euthanized and burned. Their approach seems especially odd given the global focus on the smuggled cats and numerous offers to help officials either rehabilitate and find new homes for them or humanely put them down.
"[The risk of disease] could have been successfully prevented or significantly minimalized without killing the cats by placing them in a quarantined enclosure for a period of time," says Laurence, "which is something we were willing to do."
"We had vets on standby from Thursday throughout the weekend ready to fly from Thailand," the Daily Mail quoted John Dalley of Thailand's Soi Dog Foundation as saying. "The Vietnamese authorities quite simply refused to give any information or respond to calls."
Even if the government did not wish to save the cats, advocate groups point out that they would have helped the government pay for something other than a dump-truck execution.
"They didn't have the resources to humanely euthanize the cats individually," admits Laurence. "[But that's] another service we offered to provide free of charge."
There is some indication that by the time help was offered, the cats may already have been killed, hence the sheepish and evasive responses by the Vietnamese government to aid offers.
"This happened so quickly," says Laurence. "In fact some reports indicate that the cats were almost immediately killed after being intercepted."
"However, if that was not the case, there was no reasonable basis for denying our request to assist them."
With the gruesome deed done, animal rights advocates are now focusing their efforts on issuing condemnations against the Vietnamese government . The hope is that this negative press and concentrated criticism will help to push forward the fight against animal smuggling and the adoption of more humane protocols for dealing with animals (smuggled or otherwise). But until that happens, the death of these hundreds of cats will feel gratuitous and meaningless.
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