Animal associations

The hamster cull in Hong Kong and why animal lovers are mobilizing

Authorities said they would kill around 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.

A two-year-old hamster named “Ring” owned by Cheung, a member of an online hamster community who volunteered to foster small abandoned animals in light of government instructions asking pet owners to giving up recently purchased hamsters, chinchillas, rabbits and guinea fowl pigs to slaughter after hamsters at a pet store tested positive for COVID-19, is fed by its owner in Hong Kong. AFP

Hong Kong authorities have done everything they can in their pursuit of the zero-COVID strategy, including what some are calling the “big hamster massacre.”

On January 18, authorities announced they would kill around 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.

the Associated press report said the city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals. The pet store employee tested positive for the Delta variant on January 17, and several hamsters imported from the Netherlands to the store also tested positive.

This decision obviously drew strong reactions, with many asking to reconsider the decision, while others hired private jets to fly their pet hamsters out of Hong Kong and some Samaritans reportedly volunteered to adopt hamsters from pet shops. in order to save them from their dark fate.

Let’s take a closer look at the situation:

Hamster slaughter

Hong Kong has firmly adhered to China’s “zero-COVID” policy and the recent announcement of the culling is part of this strategy.

The move came following the report that hamsters sold to pet shop Little Boss, as well as an employee, tested positive for the Delta variant – now rare in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's hamster cull explained and why animal lovers are angry

Staff from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department investigate a closed pet shop after authorities said some pet hamsters tested positive for the coronavirus, in Hong Kong. PA

Health Secretary Sophia Chan was quoted by the news agency France Media Agency saying, “Internationally, there is no evidence yet that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but…we will take precautionary measures against any vectors of transmission.”

Strict rules have been established for hamster owners.

For example, Leung Siu-fai, director of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, told a press conference that owners should keep hamsters at home and not take them out. “All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after coming into contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands,” he said.

“Don’t kiss your pets,” he added.

Additionally, customers who purchased hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22, 2021 would be subject to mandatory testing and are asked not to contact others until their tests come back negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be quarantined.

Outraged animal lovers

The decision by Hong Kong authorities has angered hamster owners and animal lovers.

Hong Kong's hamster cull explained and why animal lovers are angry

A hamster lover clings to the little animal as Hong Kong orders it to be culled. AFP

Hamster lovers launched a Change.org petition, which garnered more than 23,000 signatures in less than a day, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) denounced the decision.

“The SPCA is shocked and concerned by the recent announcement that over 2,000 animals have been handled,” she said in a statement sent to AFP.

A hamster owner, in a AFP The report was quoted as saying, “No one can take my hamster away unless they kill me. Will they also kill all COVID-19 infected patients and their close contacts?”

Defend the slaughter

Deputy Agriculture Chief Thomas Sit defended the culling as a precautionary measure when asked why the decision was made without a clear scientific basis.

The culling also found support from top microbiologist and government adviser Yuen Kwok-yung, who said the decision was “decisive” and “prudent”.

Yuen said the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation did not have enough staff to quarantine the hamsters and test them daily, “so they had no choice but to take such an unpopular decision”.

But can animals actually transmit the virus?

The cull has once again raised the question of whether the animals are at risk of being infected with COVID and can they transmit the virus.

To date, there have been reports of pet dogs, cats, ferrets, animals in zoos and sanctuaries, mink and hyenas among others testing positive for COVID-19.

The World Health Organization has said that certain animal species can be infected with the coronavirus and that animals can re-infect humans.

“This risk remains low but it is something we are constantly reviewing,” said Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO.

Of the seven million viral sequences submitted to global platforms, around 1,500 come from animals.

Van Kerkhove said better surveillance was needed to determine not only which animals were susceptible, but also to understand the extent of infections in animals and to track the virus in animals over time to see what risk it posed.

With contributions from agencies

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