XIAMEN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Live animal keychains are still on sale on the streets of China despite several petitions to make it illegal.
On a trip to Xiamen, The Star Online discovered a roadside vendor along Zeng Cuo'an tourist market peddling the "pet key chains" for 15 yuan to 20 yuan (S$3 to S$4).
Baby terrapin, fish and salamanders are sealed inside plastic pouches filled with oxygenated water that has been dyed in bright fluorescent colours. Inside each plastic pouch is a single pellet that serves as food for the animal.
The animals can move in the confined space but do not have room to turn around. A string attached to the plastic pouch allows you to hook it to keys, bags, or mobile phones.
The keychains are sold as souvenirs and attract the attention of passers-by.
According to a sign, the animals inside the pouches do not need to be fed for three months.
But ecohydrology professor Sam Walton said it is not just a lack of oxygen and food that will kill the animals.
"There might be enough oxygen and food in the plastic casing but the animal waste from digestion and respiration is toxic and will kill them. They essentially poison themselves with ammonia," said Dr Walton, a former research lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.
"Aquatic animals are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations, so being in a bag is like being in a greenhouse. The temperature shock and physical shock of being shaken around will probably kill the animals before anything else," he said.
Calling it animal cruelty, Dr Walton explained that the animals are taken out of their environment to die for no reason other than to satisfy the vanity of uninformed consumers.
"It's abhorrent to make a living creature a fashion accessory and profit from its pointless death," he said.
Images of the controversial keychains first went viral in 2011 to the chagrin of animal rights activists who condemned them as animal abuse. They then started several online petitions calling for the Chinese government to ban the sale of the keychains.
According to a South China Morning Post report last year, the draft for the country's first comprehensive animal protection law was introduced in September 2009, but no progress has been made since.
Nevertheless, animal activism is on the rise in China with the setting up of hundreds of animal rescue groups, focusing mainly on dogs and cats.