HANOI (AFP) - Thousands of live cats destined "for consumption" have been seized in Hanoi after being smuggled from China, police said Thursday, but their fate still hangs in the balance.
Cat meat, known locally as "little tiger", is an increasingly popular delicacy in Vietnam, and although officially banned is widely available in specialist restaurants.
The truck containing "three tons" of live cats was discovered in the Vietnamese capital Tuesday, an officer from Dong Da district police station told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The truck driver told police he had purchased the cats in northeastern Quang Ninh province, which borders China, and that they had all been sourced from the neighbouring country.
He told police the cats were destined "for consumption" in Hanoi, without specifying whether they would be sold to restaurants.
The officer said that according to Vietnamese laws on smuggled goods, all the cats would have to be destroyed.
"But we have not made up our mind what to do with them" because of the large volume of animals, the policeman said.
Photos on local media websites showed the smuggled cats crammed into dozens of bamboo crates stacked on top of one another.
Vietnam has long banned the consumption of cat meat in an effort to encourage their ownership and keep the country's rat population under control.
But there are still dozens of restaurants serving cat in Hanoi and it is rare to see felines roaming the streets - most pet-owners keep them indoors or tied up in fear of thieves.
Such is the demand from restaurants that cats are sometimes smuggled across the border from China, Thailand and Laos.
Cat meat is not widely eaten in China but can be found at some restaurants, particularly in the south, where it is sometimes considered a speciality.
Vietnamese customs officials routinely seize large volumes of dead animals, including tigers and pangolins, smuggled into the country for use in traditional medicine or speciality dishes.