Some 4,000 pet dogs, rabbits, cats and hamsters that were purchased online have been found dead in boxes at a processing hub in central China after being stranded there for nearly a week, according to an animal welfare group.
The group Utopia Animal Rescue said they managed to save just over 1,000 animals but the remainder had perished by the time they arrived at the Dongxing facility in Luohe, Henan province earlier this month.
“We’ve done rescues before but this was the first time I had experienced something this tragic,” one volunteer with the group told the South China Morning Post.
“When we got there, there were several small mountains of boxes containing animals. Many of them were dead and had started to rot and give off terrible smells,” she said.
The incident has once more raised concerns about the lack of regulation of online pet sales in China, where live animals can be bought and sold online with relative ease.
It is illegal in China for live animals to be transported by courier service, but accounts of small animals being delivered in a similar way to other packages are not uncommon.
Utopia Animal Rescue said it believed the recent shipment of animals was dispatched on September 16, meaning they had gone without water or food for at least five days by the time they were discovered at the parcel depot.
They are believed to have arrived at the depot from neighbouring Jiangsu province and another city in Henan province.
According to the South China Morning Post, when the courier truck arrived at the facility in Dongxing and staff discovered the cargo contained live animals, they refused to accept them.
Rather than returning the cargo to its origin, the driver had just dumped the animals at the facility.
More than 870 rabbits, 99 hamsters, 70 dogs and 28 cats were found alive at the depot.
Those that are healthy have found new homes while pet stores and volunteers are attempting to nurse the others back to health.
Utopia Animal Rescue said most of the rabbits were in a poor condition since they were less than a month old.