by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Coast Guard Administration
A NATIONAL CONTROVERSY erupted, following the euthanasia of 154 cats that were smuggled into Taiwan on a fishing boat. The cats, which included breeds such as the American Shorthair, British Shorthair, Persian, Ragdoll, and Russian Blue, were worth over NT 10 million. The cats were found in 62 cages on the ship, which had five crew members.
The cats were euthanized yesterday by the Kaohsiung City Animal and Plant Health Inspection Bureau (BAPHIQ), which is a division of the Agriculture Council. This came after animal rights groups called for quarantine and health inspection of cats instead of their euthanasia, with the NGO Animal Rescue Team Taiwan, saying it would cover the costs of their quarantine and inspection so that the animals can eventually be offered for adoption. BAPHIQ felt cats should be euthanized to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in Taiwan that could affect humans and animals. Ironically, yesterday was International Homeless Animals Day.
Facebook post by President Tsai Ing-wen on the incident
Following the incident, BAPHIQ was criticized for inhumane actions, as well as for being too bureaucratic in failing to consider other options for managing the animals. In particular, many government agencies are seen as often refusing to change standard bureaucratic procedures or becoming territorial when asked about these procedures, seeking to defend their legitimacy even when they are morally questionable. Apart from animal welfare issues, such accusations of inflexibility have frequently been seen against the National Immigration Agency when dealing with cases of migrant workers. There has been speculation that BAPHIQ decided to euthanize the animals quickly, despite the potential for controversy, because they did not want animal rights groups to interfere in their affairs in future incidents.
Political reactions to the euthanasia incident have been mainly divided between the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green lines. President Tsai Ing-wen said that she was upset by the incident, as a cat lover, while accusing the sailors of the fishing boat of illegally smuggling cats and considering changing existing laws. Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang defended euthanasia of the cat, on the grounds that it was necessary to prevent infections and diseases from entering Taiwan, as is the mayor of Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-mai, who, like Tsai, is another PDP politician known for his love of cats. Agriculture Council Minister Chen Chi-chung later called He Zong-xun, the secretary general of the Taiwan Animal Welfare Observatory, and expressed willingness to engage in dialogue with animal rights groups, as did DPP lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng.
Despite having no specific animal rights record, the KMT and members of the pan-blue camp attacked the DPP. The Mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je was among those who criticized the Tsai administration on social media, with The new mayor of Taipei, Hou You-yi. The KMT is expected to continue trying to take advantage of the issue.
Animal euthanasia has become a nationwide political issue in Taiwan in the past. The 2013 documentary Twelve Nights sparked a broad discussion on animal euthanasia in shelters, detailing how animals in shelters faced a twelve-day countdown to being euthanized in Taiwan. This led to the introduction of legislation against animal euthanasia in shelters in 2015, which was implemented in February 2017.
Notably, the campaign against animal euthanasia in shelters was common among young activists involved in the sunflower movement. Tsai is said to refer to the issue in a leading election ad in 2016, the âWalking with Childrenâ ad.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je posted on Facebook about the incident
There have been other issues that have led to animal rights being discussed nationally. The murder of a cat named “Big Orange” on the campus of National Taiwan University by a student, Perry Chan, has led to a broad debate on violence against animals in Taiwanese society, with some calling for stricter penalties for violence against animals.
That being said, some discussion of the recent 154-cat euthanasia incident also touched on the public’s reaction to euthanizing cats or dogs, but not other animals. Cattle slaughter for animals that humans eat do not usually lead to such severe reactions, Taiwan having seen millions of pigs slaughtered in recent decades for the fight against foot-and-mouth disease. There was also a discussion of how the incident reflects the commodification of animals as pets by humans, regarding how the animals were treated and disposed of as contraband.
Additionally, it is likely that there have been other euthanized animals in the past that simply went unnoticed by the public, due to lack of reporting. There was little follow-up in the news after the illegal smuggling of 50 chinchillas worth NT 7.5 million in August 2020, for example, although they were also later euthanized.
The issue is not expected to be settled, although it is possible that legal changes will be put in place following the recent euthanasia incident. To this extent, the KMT can be expected to continue using the issue to attack the DPP, while DPP members will openly express their willingness to consider changes, but can still defend existing policy.