Anger as Hong Kong culls hamsters and small pets over Covid-19 fears

Move comes after rodents sold at Little Boss pet shop tested positive for Delta variant

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Hong Kong's government is facing a backlash over a decision to cull thousands of small animals after hamsters in a pet shop tested positive for Covid-19.

The measures target hamsters, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small mammals, with authorities on Tuesday calling the cull a "precautionary measure".

Hong Kong – like China – maintains a zero-Covid policy, stamping out the smallest signs of the virus with contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines and prolonged social-distancing rules.

The move came after hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta variant, now rare in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday night, officials dressed in full PPE gear carried red garbage bags marked with biohazard warnings out of the shop.

Authorities "strongly encouraged" anyone who bought a small mammal after December 22 to give up their pet for culling.

Outside a government-run animal centre on Wednesday, a man identified only by his surname, Hau, told AFP his 10-year-old son was inconsolable about culling Pudding, a recently bought hamster, but that he was worried about the health of his elderly parents living in the same household.

"I have no choice. The government made it sound so serious," Mr Hau told AFP, showing videos of his son wailing in front of Pudding's pink cage.

One hamster lovers' group said it received more than 20 inquiries about whether owners had to give up their new pets.

Workers from Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department remove small animals from the Little Boss pet shop in Hong Kong, China. Bloomberg

Authorities on Tuesday said the Covid-positive creatures were believed to be imported from the Netherlands, with Hong Kong's health secretary defending the move as part of "precautionary measures against any vector of transmission", despite a lack of evidence showing animal-to-human transmission.

About 1,000 animals sold at Little Boss and another 1,000 hamsters in dozens of pet shops will be culled, authorities said.

The import of small mammals has also been halted.

Animal lovers across Hong Kong reacted with alarm: a petition 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 Wednesday.

'No one can take my hamster away unless they kill me'

One owner, who bought her pet on January 1, was defiant, resisting the government cull.

"No one can take my hamster away unless they kill me," she told local media outlet The Standard on Wednesday.

She recalled a recent birthday party attended by officials that resulted in several Covid infections and left Hong Kong's leadership red in the face.

"Will they also kill all infected Covid-19 patients and their close contacts?" she said.

"If all people who attended the birthday party are culled then I will hand my hamster to the government."

Updated: January 19, 2022, 8:58 AM