Hong-Kong faces worldwide criticism over massacre of Hamsters and small pets

Hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop in Hong Kong tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid-19. (Photo: AFP/Bertha Wang)

Hong Kong's administration drew uproar Wednesday over its plan to slaughter hundreds of small animals following a positive test for Covid-19 in hamsters in a store.

As with China, Hong Kong adheres to a firm "zero-Covid" policy, including contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines, and extended social isolation.

Their latest steps target hamsters and other tiny mammals, including chinchillas, rabbits, and guinea pigs, which will be culled as a "precautionary measure," authorities announced Tuesday.

The severe measure was taken after hamsters sold at Hong Kong's Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta strain, which is now uncommon in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday night, officials clothed in a complete personal protective equipment hauled red rubbish bags stamped with biohazard warnings out of the establishment.

Authorities "strongly urged" anyone who purchased a hamster after December 22 — just before Christmas — to surrender the animal to authorities for culling.

Animal lovers in Hong Kong expressed outrage: a Change.org petition collected over 23,000 signatures in less than a day. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) condemned the decision.

"The SPCA is appalled and concerned by the recent announcement regarding the handling of over 2,000 animals," the organization said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"We strongly advise pet owners against panicking or abandoning their animals."

One hamster enthusiast organization reported receiving more than 20 inquiries regarding whether owners were required to surrender their furry companions.

Authorities said Tuesday that they suspect the Covid-positive critters were brought from the Netherlands.

"There is currently no evidence that pets can transmit coronavirus to humans internationally, but... we will take precautions against any vector of transmission," Health Secretary Sophia Chan said during a press briefing.

Authorities said they would cull approximately 1,000 animals sold at Little Boss and another 1,000 hamsters from dozens of pet stores throughout Hong Kong.

Additionally, the importation of small mammals has been prohibited.

'No one has the right to take my hamster.'

One owner, who acquired her pet on January 1, responded defiantly.

"No one can take away my hamster unless they kill me," she told local news organization The Standard on Wednesday.

She resisted the government's mass cull, citing a recent birthday party attended by officials that resulted in many Covid infections and left Hong Kong's leadership red-faced.

"Will they also eliminate all Covid-19-infected patients and their close contacts?" demanded the owner.

"If everyone who attended the birthday party is culled, I will give the government my hamster."

Grim comedy has taken hold on Hong Kong-centric social media sites, with netizens sharing illustrations of hamsters donning surgical masks or battling the Grim Reaper.

The city's major opposition party has also weighed in on the debate, claiming that the strategy of "indiscriminate killing" will only breed "public resentment."

"Will cats, dogs, or other animals be targeted for 'humane dispatch' in the future?" Felix Chow, The Democratic Party's official animal rights spokesperson, posted on the group's official Facebook page.

However, some support the government's choice.

Yuen Kwok-Yung, a renowned microbiologist who now serves as a government advisor, lauded the policy as "decisive" and "prudent."

According to local station RTHK, several residents obeyed the government's demand to surrender their rodents on Wednesday. One guy stated that he agreed with the authorities' rationale of containing the virus' spread.

When questioned about Hong Kong's hamster cull, the World Health Organization stated that certain animal species could be infected with the coronavirus, which can be transmitted to humans.

"While that risk remains low, it is something we are constantly monitoring," said Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO.

Publish : 2022-01-19 12:56:00

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