URGENT UPDATE: 10th March 2008 :
About 500,000 cats in Beijing, China may be exterminated to "clean up" the city for the Olympics.
By SIMON PERRY - More by this author » Last updated at 12:01pm on 10th March 2008
Thousands of pet cats in Beijing are being abandoned by their owners and sent to die in secretive government pounds as China mounts an aggressive drive to clean up the capital in preparation for the Olympic Games. Hundreds of cats a day are being rounded and crammed into cages so small they cannot even turn around. Then they are trucked to what animal welfare groups describe as death camps on the edges of the city. 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.
Doomed: Terrified cats crammed tightly into cages are hauled off to a meat market in Guangzhou
China shoots dead terrorists 'plotting attack on Beijing Olympics' Cat owners, terrified by the disease warning, are dumping their pets in the streets to be picked up by special collection teams. Paranoia is so intense that six stray cats -including two pregnant females - were beaten to death with sticks by teachers at a Beijing kindergarten, who feared they might pass illnesses to the children.
China's leaders are convinced that animals pose a serious urban health risk and may have contributed to the outbreak of SARS - a deadly respiratory virus - in 2003. But the crackdown on cats is seen by animal campaigners as just one of a number of extreme measures being taken by communist leaders to ensure that its capital appears clean, green and welcoming during the Olympics.
Secretive: The compound at Da Niu Fang which is patrolled by security guards.
Polluting factories in and around the city are being ordered to shut down or relocate during the Games to ease Beijing's choking smog and drivers are allowed out on to the roads only three times a week. Fares on the city's underground network have been cut to just two yuan (14p) for any journey - a six-fold reduction on some routes - to keep people off buses, and beggars and street sleepers are being moved to out-of-town camps or given train fares back to their home provinces.
Meanwhile, taxi drivers have been made to attend lessons in how to greet passengers politely in English and a city-wide courtesy campaign has been launched to teach Beijing's notoriously dour and grumpy citizens how to smile and be pleasant to foreigners.
The cull of Beijing's estimated 500,000 cat population is certain to provoke international outrage as it comes just over a year after the Chinese were criticised for rounding up and killing stray dogs across the country.
Refuge: Campaigner Hu Yuan, 80, with some of the 250 cats she has taken in at her Beijing home Animal welfare groups in China are already protesting, but their members fear punishment from the authorities. Officials say people can adopt animals from the 12 cat pounds set up around the city, but welfare groups say they are almost impossible to get inside and believe few cats survive.
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