In China, mystery boxes have grown into a billion-dollar business by promising to surprise their recipients with things like toys and figurines.
But the content of these products does not always delight. In recent weeks, animals including puppies and kittens have been found dead in tiny containers being shipped across the country, sparking outrage.
Chinese merchants have put cats, dogs, hamsters, and reptiles in these mystery parcels, known literally as “blind boxes” in Chinese, and sold them online. They are advertised as “purebred animals” and “having surprise inside,” according to state media. Buyers are usually kept from knowing which animal they have purchased until they open the parcel.
The illegal sales of live animals by mail are riding on the back of a fast-growing mystery box industry that has captured the hearts of young Chinese consumers and grown to include clothes, snacks, and even mobile phones in their offerings.
Pop Mart, a Chinese toy maker known for selling collectible figurines in such mystery boxes, debuted on the Hong Kong stock market in December with a market capitalization of $12.5 billion.
But when the craze comes to cats and dogs, it becomes a matter of life and death.
Last week, residents in the southwestern city of Chengdu intercepted a truck carrying about 160 animals packed in cramped crates. A few of the kittens and puppies were found dead, while the rest, all under three months old, were sent to hospitals or shelters, according to the Chengdu Aizhijia Animal Rescue Center.
Activists suspected the shipments were meant to be mystery boxes, since the labels stated the animals were expensive breeds, according to Chinese news reports.
And in the eastern city of Suzhou, animal rights activists this week found more than 30 kittens and puppies in similar crates. The shipping labels suggested they had spent at least six days in the boxes, according to a volunteer with the Suzhou Small Animal Protection Volunteers Association.
The woman, who declined to provide her name, said a fellow volunteer spotted the suspicious boxes while picking up parcels at a local shipping station. The few animals that were found alive were sent to a hospital, but most of them had died by Thursday, she said.
“The temperature, suffocation, starvation and diseases could all have killed them,” she told VICE World News. “This is definitely inhumane.”
In a Wednesday online statement, the postal regulator in Suzhou said it was looking into illegal shipping of live animals.
The mistreatment of baby animals in mystery boxes have also infuriated social media users. Pet ownership is on the rise in urban China, and reports about animal cruelty have prompted calls for stricter laws to protect animals.
“Both sellers and buyers are not treating the cats and dogs in the boxes as real lives,” says a top-voted comment on microblogging site Weibo.
“Pet blind boxes are such a disgusting thing,” another Weibo user said. “The buyers don’t actually love pets, they just enjoy the excitement from playing this game.”
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