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August 12th - While the trade and consumption of dog meat in Asia is increasingly being discussed in public, the equally brutal cat meat trade is still relatively unknown. Following International Cat Day on August 8, global animal welfare organisations Change For Animals Foundation and FOUR PAWS have released the findings of their nationwide investigations into Vietnam’s illicit cat meat trade, exposing the true extent of the hidden trade.
In Vietnam alone, an estimated one million cats every year – including strays and pets – are stolen from the streets and even from people’s homes, and trafficked across the country and brutally slaughtered. Locally known as “Little Tiger”, whilst once centred in Northern provinces, the dish is spreading in popularity nationwide despite increasing pet ownership. Coincidentally, clashes with pet thieves and owners are sometimes fatal. Furthermore, the trade is not only a threat to animal welfare but also to human health with the threat of rabies and zoonotic diseases. Change For Animals Foundation and FOUR PAWS therefore call on the Vietnamese government to finally reinstate laws previously in place that explicitly prohibited the cat meat trade, and enforce and strengthen existing laws to safeguard human and animal health and protect people’s companion animals from theft.
In contrast to the local dog meat trade, the hunting, slaughtering and consumption of cats was explicitly illegal in Vietnam until January 2020. However, the law has been revoked and cat meat is in more demand than ever – particularly in the north of the country, but with it’s popularity spreading to other parts of the country as far south as Ho Chi Minh city. Change For Animals Foundation’s and FOUR PAWS’ investigations identified Hanoi and the Thai Binh province as Vietnam's cat meat hotspots, with their large networks of hundreds of restaurants, holding areas and slaughterhouses. To meet the increasing demand, free roaming stray and pet cats are captured and sold alive to wholesalers or directly to restaurants for slaughtering. According to the organisations, there are no farms in Vietnam where cats are bred specifically for the meat trade. “At the wholesalers we discovered many cats with collars – a clear sign that they were pets. During our research we also met many pet owners who were desperately looking for their stolen cats. The authorities usually turn a blind eye to this because they are often involved in the cat meat trade, either profiting from bribes or are consumers themselves,” says Dr. Katherine Polak, veterinarian and Head of FOUR PAWS Stray Animal Care in Southeast Asia.
Theft, transport, slaughter: animal cruelty at all stages
Some restaurants purchase the animals directly from cat thieves and slaughter them themselves on their premises, but most operate with wholesalers and slaughterhouses. According to the investigations, the coastal towns of Da Nang and Hoi An in central Vietnam – popular amongst national and international tourists – are considered crucial for the sourcing and distribution of stolen cats. “In holding areas, the wholesalers keep the cats crammed into small cages for several days until they have collected enough animals to cover the costs of transport. Over hundreds of kilometres the cats are transported without water, food and sufficient ventilation to the slaughterhouses scattered throughout Vietnam. Some wholesalers even use luggage compartments on regular passenger buses for the trafficking,” says Lola Webber, Co-Founder and Programs Director of Change For Animals Foundation. In the slaughterhouses, the cats are usually drowned, provided they have not died from exhaustion, heat stroke or injuries caused by their brutal capture and transportation. FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation have also documented that cats are sometimes bludgeoned to death with a hammer, boiled alive or killed by electrocution. The fur is then stripped from the animals and the skin is burned. Only after that the cats are gutted and frozen for further transport.
Black cats seen as premium meat
The cat meat trade is a profitable business. A live cat is sold for around 6.50 US dollars (5.70 euros) per kilo, one kilo of their meat costs 8.50 US dollars (7.50 euros). Restaurants offer dishes prepared with cat meat for about 6.50 US dollars (5.70 euros). According to the latest research by FOUR PAWS’ and Change For Animals Foundation’s research, black cats are worth even more. Traders sell them alive for 8.50 US dollars (7.50 euros) per kilo, their raw meat fetches up to 21.50 US dollars (18.90 euros) per kilo. Younger generations consider cat meat an exotic delicacy. For older people, consumption is usually linked to customs, superstition, and the lunar calendar. Some locals are convinced that eating cat meat repels bad luck. Others eat the meat – especially from black cats – because they believe it has healing effects, although there is no scientific evidence for this.
Danger to public safety and public health
In recent years, cats have become popular pets in Vietnam – despite the increasing demand for their meat, which can no longer be met with capturing stray cats alone. Hence, cat thieves do not shy away from stealing pets. Violent clashes between cat thieves and pet owners have occurred frequently, some of which have also been known to end fatally. According to Change For Animals Foundation and FOUR PAWS, the practices used in the cat meat trade could also potentially lead to the outbreak of zoonotic diseases in the future as we have seen with COVID-19, due to unsanitary conditions, brutal and unhygienic treatment of animals, multi-species transport, holding and slaughtering facilities, and cross border transportation and handling. Without any controls, the animals – whether healthy or sick – are transported across the entire country. The unsanitary conditions in holding areas – often holding various species from numerous sources – and slaughterhouses facilitates the transmission of zoonotic disease and provides the perfect breeding ground for the development of novel ones, with potentially catastrophic results.