12th August 2020 – 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. Global animal welfare organisations FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation have now released the findings of their nationwide investigations into the country’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, trafficked across the country and brutally slaughtered. Locally known as 'Little Tiger', whilst once centered in Northern provinces, the dish is spreading in popularity nationwide despite increasing pet ownership. The trade is not only a threat to animal welfare but also to human health with the risk of rabies and zoonotic diseases. FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation therefore calls on the Vietnamese government to 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 pets from being stolen.
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 However, the law has been revoked and cat meat is in more demand than ever – particularly in the north of the country, but with its popularity is spreading to other parts of the country as far south as Ho Chi Minh City. The investigations by FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation 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.
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 £5 per kilo, one kilo of their meat costs £6.50. Restaurants offer dishes prepared with cat meat for about £5. According to the latest research by FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation, black cats are worth even more. Traders sell them alive for £6.50 per kilo, their raw meat fetches up to £16.50 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 FOUR PAWS and Change For Animals Foundation, the practices used in the cat meat trade could also potentially lead to the outbreak of zoonotic diseases in the future as 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, many of the animals – whether healthy or sick – are transported across the entire country. The unsanitary conditions in holding areas and slaughterhouse facilities, often holding various species from numerous sources, facilitate the transmission of zoonotic disease and provides the perfect breeding ground for the development of novel ones, with potentially catastrophic results.
Read our report here:
FOUR PAWS’ fight against the cat and dog meat trade
In Vietnam, FOUR PAWS partners with Change For Animals Foundation, as well as local NGO’s Vietnam Cat Welfare in Hoi An and Paws for Compassion in Da Nang to improve companion animal welfare. To put a sustainable end to the brutal cat and dog meat trade in Southeast Asia, FOUR PAWS has launched a campaign on an international and national level in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. “Through educational work and cooperation with the responsible authorities, local communities and the tourism industry, FOUR PAWS’ is calling upon Governments in Southeast Asia to introduce, strengthen and enforce animal protection laws, which will bring an end to the capture, slaughter and consumption of dogs and cats. This will not only protect animals – but also people as well from public health risks,” says Dr Karanvir Kukreja, Project Manager for FOUR PAWS’ Ending the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Campaign. Furthermore, FOUR PAWS supports local animal welfare organisations and communities with humane and sustainable stray animal care programmes. FOUR PAWS is also part of the animal welfare coalitions DMFI (Dog Meat Free Indonesia) and ACPA (Asia Canine Protection Alliance), which lobby against the trade in Southeast Asia, as well as the Asia for Animals Coalition, which works to improve the welfare of animals across the region.
The support for an end to this cruel trade has gained global traction with FOUR PAWS petition receiving over 840,000 signatures since it launched late last year: https://help.four-paws.org/en/end-dog-and-cat-meat-trade-southeast-asia
Get more information about our campaign to end the Dog and Cat Meat Trade in Southeast Asia!