Smuggled Chinese cats increase rabies risk in Vietnam: experts

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Cats smuggled from China seized at a border gate in Quang Ninh Province

Authorities in the northern province of Quang Ninh have seized cats and cat meat weighing thousands of kilograms smuggled over the Chinese border to local restaurants, with experts warning of rabies and other health risks.

Cats and cat meat seized since March 6 weighed a total of at least 4,000 kilograms, provincial officials said, noting that the animals were usually smuggled over the border at night, before being hidden in local houses and divided into smaller batches to be distributed to local markets or restaurants, Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper reported.

Some smugglers also used boats.

A new trick in response to recent raids by Vietnamese authorities is for cat smugglers to slaughter and process the animals in advance before sneaking in packages weighing approximately 50 kilograms each.

Nguyen Dang Truong, chief market manager of Quang Ninh Province, said cat smuggling from China is not new, but the illegal practice has never been carried out on such a large scale.

Truong said all the cats were to be served as meals.

Le Van Thuong, a long-time cat trader in the northern port city of Hai Phong, said the biggest markets for cat meat are in Thai Binh and Nam Dinh provinces, located outside Hanoi where cat meat is considered a delicacy.

Thuong said it is easy to differentiate Chinese cats from their Vietnamese counterparts, as the former have shorter faces, stiffer hair and stinky legs resulting from their transport, in addition to being much less tasty.

Nguyen Van Duc, head of  the market watchdog agency of Thai Binh Province, said locals still have the habit of serving cat meat at wedding parties and other festive occasions.

Van Dang Ky, in charge of disease control and research at the Animal Health Department at the agriculture ministry, said the illegal animals can carry many diseases, including rabies.

"The people who smuggle and slaughter the cats are exposed to a very high risk of [contracting] rabies," Ky told Nguoi Lao Dong.

He said Vietnamese authorities were already having difficulty controlling rabies among its local cat population. "Further failures to contain this smuggling will cause rabies to spread among many animals in Vietnam, which will endanger people's health."

Experts said while both cats and dogs carry ascaris, a parasitic nematode worm that can grow in the human brain, liver and other internal organs, cats are the primary hosts of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasitic organism that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and other neurological diseases. It can also affect the heart, liver, inner ears, and eyes. It can be fatal for people with weakened immune systems such as AIDS patients and pregnant women.

Cats also carry agents that can cause fungal skin diseases, typhoid fever, diarrhea, and potentially fatal blood poisoning, they said, noting that infections are caused during digestion or through open wounds exposed to the slaughtering process.

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