Olympian efforts for animals in China
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:
BEIJING–Four months before the 2008 Olympic Games in
Beijing, China has yet to introduce a long hoped for and officially
hinted at national humane law–but a newly decreed ban on poultry
slaughter in traditional live markets strikes at the economic
viability of live markets themselves.
“Despite protests by poultry vendors who fear that the ban
will affect their livelihood, the policy will go into effect on
April 1, 2008 and all chicken, geese and ducks should then be
slaughtered at licensed abattoirs,” warned Chinese National Science
Council chair Chen Chien-jen.
Chen Chien-jen also heads the Chinese cabinet task force on
prevention of the H5N1 avian flu, which has killed 19 of the 29
Chinese known to have become infected.
Five H5N1 outbreaks hit poultry in China during the first
quarter of 2008. The most recent Chinese human fatality was a
44-year-old woman from Haifeng County in Guangdong who died on
The Chinese live market poultry slaughter ban applies to more than
90% of the animals sold at traditional live markets, and appears to
be stronger than the legislation governing live markets in most U.S.
states– indeed, in most of the world.
Sellers at U.S. traditional live markets from New York City
to San Francisco continue to sell and slaughter poultry and other
animals with little if any inspection or regulation–a concern of
public health officials, as well as of animal advocates, but
efforts to introduce regulation to U.S. live markets have proved
Regarded decades ago as artifacts of the past that would soon
fade out, U.S. traditional live markets were exempted from most of
the rules that apply to commercial slaughterhouses, in deference to
the traditions of a variety of ethnic communities.
In recent years, responding to increased consumer demand for
non-factory farmed meat, as well as immigration from parts of the
world where live markets are common, the older live markets of many
U.S. cities have expanded, and countless new live markets have
The new Chinese law incorporates a lengthy adjustment period,
Chen Chien-jen said. This could become a loophole for
non-enforcement, or may simply be a safeguard, as Chen Chien-jen
declared it is, to ensure that all poultry sellers have access to
slaughterhouses meeting the new standards, and understand what the
Enforcement of the live market slaughter ban was originally
to begin on October 1, well after the Olympics, when outside
observation of China will be less intense. The enforcement deadline
is now to come “between three and six months later,” Chen Chien-jen
The prohibition of poultry slaughter at live markets was at
least the fourth measure introduced in China since November 2007 to
curtail branches of animal commerce that have long been activist
targets. Each measure has extended existing legislation meant to
protect public health and the environment.
Wildlife & cat traffic
The first was a ban on selling snakes and snake meat for
human consumption announced by Guangzhou bureau of forestry director
Guo Qinghe, days before the 2nd China Companion Animal Symposium,
held in Guangdong. Based on a law introduced in January 2004 to
control the spread of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome by halting
the sale of non-captive-raised wildlife, the ban inhibited eating
cats as well as snakes, by prohibiting the traditional Guangdong
dish “dragon fighting tiger”–as the state newspaper China Daily
Whether the ban is enforced is unclear, as cats continue to
be sold in the live markets of Guangdong, the only region where
cat-eating is common, and as cats are consumed in other dishes. No
quantification of the cat traffic now, as opposed to six months ago
and longer, has been made available.
Fiona Tam of the South China Morning Post reported on
February 26 that the 2004 legislation appears to be partially
effective in achieving its original goals, but is still not fully
“Long blamed as a key source of the SARS virus, civets and
other wild game are still on the menu for many Cantonese,” Tam
found. “But while they are still available, diners now have to
scout for the animals on the black market,” except in Guangzhou,
where “37 major wildlife trading hubs” offer “various species of
fowl, as well as deer, boar, rabbits, fox, pangolin and civets.”
Recalled Tam, “When Guangdong imposed the ban [on wildlife
sales for human consumption], it offered a reward for
whistleblowers, and authorities oversaw the killing of at least
7,200 captive civet cats that year,” who were confiscated from
Now, Tam wrote, “To avoid the crackdown, animal dealers
and restaurant owners keep civet cats and other wild game in nearby
ramshackle rooms, and diners, who used to select their animal or
bird outside the restaurant, must phone in an order.”
Guangdong banned raising civets, “but the ban stops at the
provincial border,” Tam continued. “Insiders say that more than 70%
of the civet cats available in Guangdong are farmed in neighboring
provinces, making it difficult for Guangdong to enforce its ban.
Last year,” Tam reported, “the Guangdong forestry bureau seized
more than 20,000 wild animals from vendors, but the bans and fines
haven’t deterred civet breeders and dealers.”
However, “More and more young and well-educated people
refuse to eat wild game now,” Shenzhen cat protection activist
Isobel Zhang told Tam, and government discouragement of wildlife
trafficking intensified in early 2008.
First, selling song thrushes and six other bird species
often kept as cage birds was banned throughout China, effective on
January 1, 2008.
Six weeks later the State Forestry Administration introduced a
nationwide crackdown against online wildlife trafficking. Endangered
Species Import and Export Management Office deputy director Meng
Xianlin told the official Xinhua news agency that staff of the
International Fund for Animal Welfare had discovered 1,973 incidents
of wild animal and product trade online in the preceding three
months, including offers to buy or sell more than 30 animals listed
by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
“The items included wild tiger bone wine, tiger whiskers,
rhino horns, and live slow lorises, a furry primate mostly found in
southeast Asia,” Xinhua News said.
“Acting upon the reports, the Endangered Species Import and
Export Management Office cooperated with public security and forestry
departments in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, where most of the
trade information was uncovered,” Xinhua News continued. “More than
80% of the information was deleted [from web sites]. Several
websites were closed.”
An IFAW media release said further investigations were continuing.
Dog meat ban rumor
A possible fifth Chinese action against a cruel form of
animal trafficking was described by an anonymous undercover reporter
for Sky News, of Britain, on March 11, 2008–but was apparently not
mentioned by Chinese state media.
“Restaurants serving dog meat in Beijing have been ordered to close
for fear of upsetting western tourists arriving for this year’s
Olympic Games,” Sky News claimed. “But British activists say the
dog-meat ban is a cynical, cosmetic move while appalling animal
cruelty continues throughout China.
“Investigation agency Ecostorm gained access to China’s
dog-meat industry and secured pictures of dogs being brutally killed
with clubs and knives,” Sky News continued. “The images show the
animals taking up to seven minutes to die before they are boiled and
skinned to be eaten.
“Posing as British businessmen, investigators spent several weeks
visiting dog restaurants and processing factories outside Beijing,”
Sky News said. “Travel a few hours west out of Beijing, to the city
of Datong, and you’ll find what China doesn’t want them to see. On
display outside dog-restaurants, the video shows dozens of dogs
cramped into wire cages, waiting to be killed and eaten.”
Datong, a longtime regional railway hub known for ancient
Buddhist temples and statues, is actually about eight hours by train
or car northwest of Beijing, and is much farther north and west than
any other Chinese cities with documented dog meat industries.
Raising dogs for human consumption does not appear to have
been noted by visitors to Datong until the “Saint Bernard Dog Meat
Breeding Center” opened there in 1998, coinciding with significant
expansion of the tourist trade.
A dog-related decree that did get national attention from
China Daily was a reinforced national rabies vaccination requirement,
jointly issued on January 18, 2008 by the ministries of health and
Yunnan province epidemiologist Ding Zhengrong told China Daily that
the national vaccination rate going into 2008 was only10%, well
below the minimum 70% vaccination rate that is necessary to prevent
rabies outbreaks from spreading.
Beijing, where dogs are popular pets, charges the equivalent of
$140 U.S. to register a dog for the first time, and $70 per year to
renew the registration. Rabies vaccination is included in the price.
More than 300 locations around Beijing sell registrations and provide
In Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong and hub of the dog
meat industry, the cost of registering a pet dog is $1,400 for the
first year, China Daily said, and $840 each year thereafter.
So-called “meat dogs,” however, are neither registered nor
vaccinated–and Guangdong leads China in both canine and human rabies
“Compulsory canine vaccination could become one of the first
positive outcomes of the 2008 Olympiad,” observed Craig R. Pringle,
ProMED viral diseases moderator for the International Society for
“Human rabies is an escalating problem in China which
requires a drastic response,” Pringle editorialized. “The numbers
of [human] rabies deaths in China are given by the Ministry of Health
as 2,651 in 2004, 2,537 in 2005, 3,279 in 2006, and 3,380 in 2007.
Compulsory vaccination of canines kept as companion animals
is a laudable aim,” Pringle continued, “possibly achievable in
Beijing. But the considerable expense of vaccination for pet owners
and lack of uniformity of regulations in other cities may be barriers
to achieving control of rabies outside the capital. Canine rabies
control in rural areas remains an unsolved problem, and may require
implementation of a state-supported free vaccination campaign.”
There are now about 15 times more dogs kept as pets in China
than are eaten, and 300 times as many cats as are eaten, but
halting the dog and cat meat trade would eliminate reservoirs of
unvaccinated animals in the areas of greatest risk.
Public demonstrations against eating dogs, cats, and birds
have repeatedly attracted favorable Chinese media notice since
January 12, 2008, when 10 Northeast Normal University students
wearing animal masks spent half an hour on their knees in subfreezing
weather, begging for clemency for the animals at a live market in
Changchun, Jilin province.
“The slaying stopped,” reported China Daily. Other reports
did not mention any outcome. A leafleting demonstration by
sympathizers followed in Beijing.
The Changchun and Beijing activists were participants in the
Chinese Animal Protection Network, self-described as “the first
Chinese network for animal protection,” consisting of “pioneer
projects that target different animal issues such as animal ethics,
welfare of companion animals, and vegetarianism.”
Founded in 2004, the Chinese Animal Protection Network now
claims “40 member groups, two branches, and over 10,000 individual
supporters,” with an active web site at <www.ccapn.ngo.cn>.
In February 2007, the network initiated an online petition
against dog and cat eating that within one year had collected more
than 40,000 signatures, and had generated more than 100,000 mentions
on web pages.
While the Chinese government has aggressively repressed
political organization in other causes, there has so far been little
hint of opposition to animal advocacy, and have been many signs of
official encouragement of animal advocates, especially in the form
of increasingly prominent and favorable coverage by state media.
This was overlooked or disregarded in reports by The Times of
London on February 25, 2008 and The Daily Mail, also of London, on
March 8, 2008, both of which alleged that as Times Beijing
correspondent Jane Macartney put it, “Animal welfare activists in
Beijing are up in arms over a decision by the city government to
clear the capital of its stray cats as part of a sweeping Olympic
“Qin Xiaona, head of the Capital Animal Welfare Assocation,
says 160,000 to 200,000 animals at the very minimum are at risk,”
wrote Macartney. “Strays are already being caught and transported to
a holding pen in the suburban county of Changping. Animal welfare
activists described seeing the cats crowded together in cages the
size of a microwave oven.
“They estimated almost 90% of the animals were diseased, and
many had been neutered with rudimentary surgery that led to
infections. The order states that strays still unclaimed after 14
days will be ‘dealt with,'” Macartney said, based on Qin Xiaona’s
statements, leaving unexplained why doomed animals are neutered.
Simon Perry of the Daily Mail reported similar details,
adding that “The cull comes in the wake of a government campaign
warning of the diseases cats carry and ordering residents to help
clear the streets of them. Cat owners, terrified by the warning,
are dumping their pets in the streets to be picked up by special
The view from Beijing
“The real situation is only worse,” claimed China Small
Animal Protection Society international liaison Luguan Yan. “The Da
Niu Fang compound in Haidian District is very close to our shelter,
and even we do not have any access to the cats inside. We are trying
to lobby the government against culling cats, but since we are
terribly understaffed, we are not sure how much impact our efforts
But others found a different picture.
“As soon as ACTAsia heard the news, our colleagues in China
immediately started looking for evidence,” wrote Pei F. Su of
ACTAsia for Animals. Pei Su, a British resident, is fluent in
“We also contacted members of several key Beijing animal
groups,” Pei Su said. “We found no evidence that Beijing has
started organized operations to remove stray cats from streets or
other public areas.
“In June 2007, the municipality started to establish cat
pounds,” parallel to the existing dog pounds. “Telephone numbers
were introduced for the public to report stray animals and to find
out how to hand over unwanted pets. So far, we have confirmed that
two pounds have been set up specifically for cats, one permanent and
one temporary, from which cats are transferred to the permanent
facility,” Pei Su continued.
“In November 2007 the municipality started to publicize these
facilities to encourage the public to send unwanted and stray cats
to these pounds. The municipality is planning to build more
temporary animal pounds in different districts.
“When animal groups visited the pounds,” Pei Su
acknowledged, “they observed that the cats were kept in appalling
welfare conditions. Many cats were ill, and had not received
treatment. The cages were small, and were placed in vertical
stacks. In December 2007 the animal group Lucky Cats rescued more
than 60 cats from these pounds.”
In January 2008, Pei Su wrote, “several key cat rescuers,
together with Lucky Cats, met with the vice director of the Animal
Health Inspection Center and suggested that the municipality increase
the size of the cages, isolate sick cats, give them appropriate
treatment, and not remove neutered and monitored animals from the
streets,” in neighborhoods where Lucky Cats and others conduct
The delegation also asked the city to “Acknowledge the
rescue methods and experience of the animal groups, and allow
volunteers to visit and help at the cat pounds,” as was introduced
at Beijing’s main dog pound in 2003.
In addition, Pei Su said, the delegation asked the city to “Explain
to the public the real purpose of animal pounds, and what happens to
unwanted animals in the pounds, so that people do not have any
unrealistic perceptions about the fate of these animals,” including
disclosing how unclaimed animals are killed at the end of the 14-day
“The Centre agreed to inform Lucky Cats when it received
neutered cats,” Pei Su recounted. “However, cat rescuers are no
longer allowed to take other cats from the pounds.
“People are allowed to adopt cats from the pounds if they do
not already have cats at home,” Pei Su said.
“To date,” Pei Su assessed, “the majority of the cats in
the pounds appeared to have been handed over by their owners, with a
small percentage of cats caught from the street. The abandonments
appear to be at least partly due to a long-running government
campaign about the disadvantages and dangers of keeping a cat, in
which a false picture is painted of the wonderful life a cat will
have in a pound. Animal groups in Beijing are trying to counteract
this by educating the public about the conditions in the pounds and
the death that awaits abandoned cats. They also provide information
about the benefits of keeping cats, and how to care responsibly for
“In conclusion,” Pei Su e-mailed, “we are relieved that no
organized operation has been started to actively catch stray cats in
Beijing at this stage, but we have heard from reliable sources that
the municipality is actively seeking training on how to catch stray
cats. This could be an indication that there may be government
action on this front before too long. Therefore, it is very
important to urge Beijing Municipality to understand that catching
and killing will not resolve stray animal problems, and that it is
important to take a comprehensive approach. ACTAsia will continue to
monitor the situation,” Pei Su pledged.
The Animals Asia Foundation issued similar findings, and
joined the Capital Welfare Association in offering material support
for expanded neuter/return efforts.
“We recently funded a similar program in Guangzhou,” Animals
Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson said, “and are setting the
standard for vet care in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and soon Chengdu with
team outreach programs, which are providing training at veterinary
clinics in basic spay/neuter and animal care.”
Recalled Sharon St. Joan of the Best Friends Network, “In
2006, there was massive killing of dogs in China. In October 2006
a demonstration in front of the Beijing Zoo by dog owners and several
Chinese animal welfare groups helped bring an end to the killing.
There are reports now circulating on the Internet about the
large-scale killing of cats in Beijing,” St. Joan acknowledged.
“However, unlike the situation in 2006, there is no clear
confirmation from inside China that this is happening. Animal Rescue
Beijing manager Irene Zheng,” who interned at the Best Friends
Animal Sanctuary in 2005, “has written that ARB founder Wu Tianyu
talked with the managers of the parks in Beijing, and was told that
they are no longer seeing cats being trapped by the authorities.”
Olympic boycott threats
Inevitably, the British newspaper reports fueled activist
calls for boycotts of the Olympics, and of Chinese products and
“Boycotts are not always an effective tactic,” reminded St. Joan.
“They may be unjust and inappropriate. Boycotting a popular event
such as the Olympics may not advance the cause of animals or animal
groups in any way–and could work against the animal groups and the
animals. Well over thirty very active, dedicated, and highly
effective animal welfare groups are working hard in China,
courageously fighting for the well-being of animals. Helping them in
their work and giving them support is the very best way to advance
the cause of animals in China!”
Agreed Robinson, “There is an enormous movement within
China, not only working quietly behind the scenes with the central
government and local authorities, but also working vocally and
increasingly more effectively as the gradual shift of the past couple
of years gains momentum.
“Any aggressive pressure surrounding the Olympics from within
will quickly see a backlash from millions across the country who are
fiercely proud of this event, and would be appalled by any negative
leverage which tries to end or damage something which they have
supported for years.”
“International protests would likely backfire too,” Robinson
continued. “Worldwide criticism of dog eating during the World Cup
[soccer tournament] in Korea brought a backlash from students who
objected to being told what to do in their own country–and
slaughtered and ate yet more dogs in protest against ‘interfering
“We do not endorse using this issue to oppose the Olympics,”
agreed Luguan Yan.