Explained: Hong Kong’s hamster cull and why animal lovers are up in arms

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

FP Staff January 24, 2022 16:47:31 IST
Explained: Hong Kong’s hamster cull and why animal lovers are up in arms

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

Hong Kong authorities have been doing all they can to in their pursuit of the zero-COVID strategy including what some are calling ‘Great Hamster Massacre’.

On 18 January, authorities announced that they would kill about 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 stated that the city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals. The pet shop employee tested positive for the Delta variant on 17 January, and several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the store tested positive as well.

The move has quite obviously evoked strong reactions with many asking for a rethink on the decision, while some others have hired private jets to take their pet hamsters out of Hong Kong and some Samaritans have reportedly volunteered to adopt hamsters from pet shops in a bid to save them from their grim fate.

Let’s take a closer look at the situation:

Hamster cull

Hong Kong has been strongly adhering to China's 'zero-COVID' policy and the recent announcement of the cull comes as part of this strategy.

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

Explained Hong Kongs hamster cull and why animal lovers are up in arms

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

Health secretary Sophia Chan was quoted by news agency Agence France Presse as saying, "Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but... we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission."

Strict rules have been laid out for hamster owners.

For instance, Leung Siu-fai, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said during a news conference that owners should keep hamsters at home, and not take them out. “All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands," he said.

“Do not kiss your pets,” he added.

Moreover, customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from 22 December, 2021, would be subject to mandatory testing and are urged not contact others until their tests have returned negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be subject to quarantine.

Animal lovers outraged

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

Explained Hong Kongs hamster cull and why animal lovers are up in arms

A hamster lover holds on to the small animal as Hong Kong orders a cull of them. AFP

Hamster lovers initiated 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 over the recent announcement about the handling of over 2,000 animals," it said in a statement sent to AFP.

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

Defending the cull

Deputy agriculture chief Thomas Sit defended the cull as a precautionary measure when asked why the decision was made without a clear scientific basis.

The cull also found support from top microbiologist and government advisor Yuen Kwok-yung, who said the move was "decisive" and "prudent".

Yuen said the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department did not hav-e enough staff to quarantine hamsters and test them daily, "so they had no choice but to make such an unpopular decision".

But can animals actually transmit the virus?

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

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

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

"That risk remains low but it is something that we are constantly looking at," said the WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove.

Of seven million virus sequences submitted to global platforms, around 1,500 are 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 track the virus in animals over time to see what risk it posed.

With inputs from agencies

Read all the Latest News, Trending NewsCricket News, Bollywood News,
India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Updated Date:

also read

Uncovering the horror of Shanghai’s COVID-lockdown
World

Uncovering the horror of Shanghai’s COVID-lockdown

Videos on social media have revealed the often inhuman and cruel methods — forcibly placing people in quarantine camps, killing pets — authorities in China's financial capital have resorted to in order to achieve its 'zero-COVID' aim

In Xi Jinping's big year, political price of China's zero-COVID policy climbs
World

In Xi Jinping's big year, political price of China's zero-COVID policy climbs

While much of the Western world suffered huge outbreaks, China's 'dynamic zero-COVID' approach was upheld as an emblem of Xi's shrewd leadership and celebrated during the ruling Communist Party's centenary last year

Hong Kong election committee kicks off leadership polls with sole candidate, John Lee
World

Hong Kong election committee kicks off leadership polls with sole candidate, John Lee

As the only candidate in the polls, Lee is expected to win easily, especially since he has Beijing's endorsement