Olympics clean up Chinese style: Inside Beijing’s shocking death camp for
By SIMON PERRY
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 up 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.
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.
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.
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.
One cat lovers’ group negotiated the release of 30 pets from one of the
compounds in Shahe, north-west Beijing, but said they were in such a pitiful
condition that half of them died within days of their release.
“These cats are being left to die. It is very inhumane,” said the group’s
founder Yan Qi, who runs a sanctuary for cats.
“People don’t want to keep cats in Beijing any more so they abandon them or
send them to the compounds.
“When we went inside, we saw about 70 cats being kept in cages stacked one
on top of the other in two tiny rooms.
“Disease spreads quickly among them and they die slowly in agony and
distress. The government won’t even do the cats the kindness of giving them
lethal injections when they become sick. They just wait for them to die.
“It is the abandoned pets that suffer the most and die the soonest. They
relied so much on their owners that they can’t cope with the new
“Most refuse to eat or drink and get sick more quickly than the feral cats.”
Ms Yan’s group has now been denied access to the pounds.
“We do not believe any of the cats that go in there survive,” she said.
“They are like death camps.”
Ms Yan said there was another reason for people abandoning their cats – the
200 yuan (£14) fee they face if they want to have their pets neutered and
“We have tried to negotiate with the government to stop the round-ups and to
introduce cut-price neutering services so that people can afford to keep
their pets but they won’t listen to us,” she said.
“They are not thinking about the cats. They just want to get results in the
quickest way possible, by clearing as many cats from the city as they can.”
Retired doctor Hu Yuan, 80, runs one of the few remaining refuges for
abandoned pets in her ramshackle home in the ancient Long Tou Jing area of
She shares her tiny home with 250 abandoned cats and has taken in 70 over
the past 12 months alone.
She pays for neutering and food from her pension and donations. She said:
“If I don’t take them in, the government will kill them.
“People believe what the government tells them and that is why they are
abandoning more and more family pets.”
She said the problem could be traced back to former president Jiang Zemin
for the crackdown.
“He didn’t like dogs so he decided to have dogs killed.
But there was a bad reaction from the foreign media and they were pressured
“Now they have stopped killing dogs but the new victims are cats. It is all
connected to the Olympics.”
Cats are regularly dumped on her doorstep late at night by owners frightened
by the government campaign.
“The situation is very bad now,” said Ms Hu. “When women get pregnant, the
doctor will ask them if they have a cat in the house.
“If they reply Yes, they tell them, ‘You must get rid of it, it will be bad
for the baby’.
“I keep all the cats in my house and 100 of them sleep in my bedroom at
night. I am too frightened to let them out. If they go outside, they will be
taken away and killed.
“The government is not telling people the truth. Look at me. I live with
them 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I am very healthy.”
The round-up has been particularly intense in areas around Olympic venues
and in streets and alleys surrounding five-star hotels where guests will
stay during the summer games.
Despite the health warnings, the round-up of cats has led to a surge in the
number of restaurants in the capital serving cat meat, according to Ms Hu.
She said hundreds of cats were also being sent to Guangzhou in southern
China, an area infamous for restaurants that serve meat from cats and dogs
and exotic animals such as snakes and tigers.
It was in July last year that district officials were instructed to begin an
intense round-up of cats as part of Beijing’s pre-Olympics clean-up. Now
notices have been put up urging residents to hand in cats.
Welfare groups estimate that tens of thousands have been collected in the
past few months.
The Mail on Sunday went to the cat pound in Shahe on the north-western
fringes of Beijing but we were repeatedly refused admission.
“No one can come in without official papers,” staff shouted from behind
padlocked steel gates.
At another, larger compound in Da Niu Fang village, the sound of cats
wailing could be clearly heard coming from a cluster of tin-roofed sheds,
but workers denied they were holding any cats.
“There are no cats here, go away. No one is allowed inside unless you have
official permission,” a security guard said.
The killing of the six stray cats at the kindergarten – where staff at a
Beijing cigarette factory leave their children – is the most striking
illustration of the city-wide fear of cats.
A teacher at the nursery said: “We did it out of love for the children. We
were worried the cats might harm them. These six cats had been hanging
around the kindergarten looking for food.
“So three male teachers put out plates of tuna in cages for bait, trapped
the cats and then beat them to death with sticks.
“We were very worried the children might try to stroke them and that the
cats might scratch them or pass on diseases. We had to get rid of the cats
and this was the only way to do it.”
Christie Yang of the charity Animals Asia, which liaises with the Beijing
animal welfare groups, said: “We are seriously concerned.
“We understand that with the Olympic Games the Beijing government is eager
to show the world the city in a good light.
“But capturing and dealing with cats in such an inhumane way will seriously
tarnish the image of Beijing and the Games.”
. Names of the animal campaigners have been changed as the people we
interviewed are concerned about officials’ reaction to our story.