Animal rights advocates in Hong Kong are condemning the decision of the local government to cull 2,000 hamsters due to COVID-19 infections found in 11 of the rodents.
Local health officials conducted mass COVID-19 testing on hundreds of animals after a coronavirus transmission was traced to an employee of a pet shop in the district of Causeway Bay, reported Reuters.
After 11 hamsters tested positive for COVID-19, Hong Kong halted sales and imports of the animal and ordered the “humane” killing of 2,000 hamsters. The hamsters that tested positive were all imported from the Netherlands, reported RTHK. Rabbits and other animals at Little Boss, including those in its warehouse, will also be euthanized.
Around 150 customers of the Little Boss pet shop will be placed under quarantine. Other pet shops across Hong Kong were closed and disinfected to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
A premature decision
The Hong Kong chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) released a statement urging local officials to reconsider the culling.
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“The SPCA is shocked and concerned over the recent government announcement on the handling of over 2,000 small animals, which did not take animal welfare and the human-animal bond into consideration,” it said.
World Animal Protection research head Jan Schmidt-Burbach echoed this sentiment, saying the decision was made prematurely.
“Culling animals should always be a last resort and we encourage governments to explore other options, such as quarantine, first,” Schmidt-Burbach said.
A necessary action
Health Secretary Sophia Chan said authorities made the decision to cull the hamsters as a cautionary measure, despite the lack of evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from domestic animals to humans.
According to Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director Leung Siu-fai Leung, it was necessary to cull the hamsters as it would be “impossible to quarantine and observe each one.”
Leung said the hamster owners who bought their pets after Dec. 22, 2021 must surrender the animals to authorities for culling.
“Pet owners should keep a good hygiene practice, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other items, and avoid kissing the animals,” he noted.
Thomas Sit, the assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, further explained to The Washington Post that the infected hamsters pose a threat to other animals.
“You need to realize that the hamsters [which] have already got infected are excreting the virus. They can infect other animals, other hamsters and human beings,” Sit was quoted as saying. “We have to protect public health and we have no choice.”
A pet owner who surrendered his hamster named “Fat Boy” said he did so after considering his cat’s safety.
“Helpless… [I’m] mainly worried that it could infect other animals,” the man surnamed Mak told RTHK.