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January 21, 2011

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Misery of online trade in rabbits

RESIDENTS looking to buy a cute pet bunny online for the Chinese Year of the Rabbit are ending up with a dead animal in a box, after dealing with unscrupulous companies.

Huge numbers of live rabbits had been listed as hot "items" for sale on the country's leading e-commerce platforms as the 2011 Chinese lunar New Year approaches.

But many animals dispatched illegally arrive frozen or suffocated after taking several days to reach customers.

Deliveries have been delayed by labor shortages among couriers - as staff leave for the Spring Festival - and bad weather, with fatal consequences for the pets.

And to make customers' misery complete, some vendors will not provide a refund unless the dead rabbit is returned to them - even though it is illegal to do this.

On leading e-commerce platform, one online vendor has sold 89 rabbits in the past week at 30 yuan (US$4.5) each. But according to customer comments, many pets died in transit or shortly after arrival.

The platform showed more than 600 online vendors selling pet rabbits, with prices ranging from 15 to 2,000 yuan for some American breeds.

But with some deliveries taking five days, it is almost impossible for the animals to survive.

Their odds are reduced even further through rough handling by transport workers, many who don't realize they are dealing with live animals as packages are often labelled "Fragile: Glass" in a bid to avoid security checks.

"Chinese law bans the transport of living animals without a certificate of quarantine," said Zhang Jun, an official with leading courier company, Shentong Express.

But Zhang said though Shentong would not get involved in the business, some small couriers run the risk due to the profits of offer.

Workers with those companies could be unlicensed, he said.

One Beijing-based rabbit vendor told Shanghai Daily that it had stopped online trading to other cities and provinces because too many rabbits died in transit.

But other vendors have now figured out a way to protect their profits despite the high mortality rate: they insist customers must send back the dead rabbits to get a refund.

Regulations forbid dead animals being sent in this way, leading some customers to complain that it's impossible to get a refund.

Taobao officials appealed to rabbit vendors to ensure that animals are transported in the correct manner to customers.


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