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5,000 pets found dead in cages at Chinese shipping depot after being stranded for a week without food and water

The casualties included rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and cats - all held in claustrophobic plastic or metal cages wrapped in cardboard boxes with breathing holes
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Chinese authorities found atleast 5,000 pets dead inside cardboard shipping boxes at a logistics facility in Central China last week. According to CBS News, only a couple hundred animals were saved among thousands of casualities that were likely caused due to a miscommunication in the supply chain of the country's massive breeding industry. A local animal rescue group told the outlet on Wednesday that an investigation has been launched into the heartbreaking discovery in Henan Province.

Sister Hua, the founder of animal rescue group Utopia, told CBS News how the "station was cluttered with express boxes with thousands of animals that had already died, and the entire place reeks of rotting bodies." 

"It was like a living hell," she added in a phone interview Wednesday.

According to the report, the casualties included rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and cats - all held in claustrophobic plastic or metal cages wrapped in cardboard boxes with breathing holes. The poor animals had reportedly been left without food and water for about a week before eventually being discovered at the Dongxing Logistics station in Henan's Luohe city. "It was obvious they died of suffocation, dehydration and starvation," Hua explained. 

While state law prohibits the shipping of live animals in normal packaging, it was likely that the animals were bought online as pets. However, they were left stranded at the logistics depot because the logistics company tasked with their collection may have refused to sign off on a shipment violating transport regulations, Hua said.

"Miscommunication inside the shipping company and the inconsistency of the implementation of shipping regulations directly led to the tragedy," she insisted. "Of course, both buyers and sellers bear the responsibility, too."

Speaking to local media, the shipping company Yunda said it wasn't aware of the incident but staff had confirmed they had allowed live animals to be transported in boxes with breathing holes, per he state-run Global Times newspaper.

At least 200 rabbits and 50 dogs and cats were rescued from the scene by Hua and 20 fellow volunteers. Severely ill animals were rushed to veterinary clinics while local authorities arranged for the the thousands of dead animals to be "collected, disinfected and buried." Several aothers were adopted on site, per the report.

Hua and her charity, following the rescue operaiton in Luohe city, heard about another batch of animals that were being shipped to the nearby village of Dameng. The group was able to save about 1,000 more animals after 13 grueling hours of further rescue operations. However, an equivalent number of animals died at the second site. Hua told the outlet that both incidents were unacceptable in terms of animal welfare as well as the risk posed to human public health. "Given the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing, it's so terrifying to have those live animals transported that way, and even ending up dead," she said.

"Go for adoption instead of illegal buying and shipping of animals," Hua urged potential pet owners, before calling on Chinese authorities to "strictly enforce" already existing rules regarding the transport of live animals.