Hong Kong Will Cull Thousands of Hamsters and Small Animals After Delta Variant Was Detected in a Pet Shop

Though there is no evidence of domestic animals passing the disease to humans, officials say they are acting out of caution

Two people in hazmat suits crouch inside a pet shop.
Staff members from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in Hong Kong investigate a pet shop that was closed after hamsters tested positive for the coronavirus. AP Photo / Kin Cheung

Hong Kong officials will cull 2,000 hamsters and small animals after a worker and 11 hamsters from the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta coronavirus variant, report Victor Ting, Gigi Choy and Elizabeth Cheung for the South China Morning Post. 

Hong Kong has taken a “zero Covid” strategy, stamping out outbreaks with strict lockdowns and quarantines. Though there is no evidence of domestic animals passing the disease to humans, officials are acting out of caution, Hong Kong’s health secretary Sophia Chan tells the Guardian’s Helen Davidson. The city immediately suspended the sale and importation of small mammals. 

After a 23-year-old Little Boss employee was diagnosed with the first untraceable Delta variant in more than three months, authorities tested 178 hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas at the Little Boss pet shop and storage house, per the Guardian

At least two people linked to Little Boss have tested positive, and 150 of the shop’s customers were ordered into quarantine, per the South China Morning Post. 

Now, all hamsters at pet shops in the city will be killed, along with all animals sold at Little Boss and its warehouse.

A police officer stands guard outside Little Boss pet store.
A police officer stands guard outside Little Boss pet store.  AP Photo / Kin Cheung

“We don’t want to cull all the animals, but we have to protect public health and animal health,” says Thomas Sit, assistant director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation department. “We have no choice — we have to make a firm decision.”

At 213 total deaths since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city of 7.5 million people has maintained a very low mortality rate, per the Associated Press. However, Hong Kong’s vaccination rate is also low, with only about 70 percent of the population having received two shots, while as low as 20 percent of the elderly individuals are fully vaccinated, reports Katrina Hamlin for Reuters

The Hong Kong government “strongly advised” owners to turn over any hamsters bought in the city since December 22 for euthanasia, per a local newspaper The Standard, but the Hong Kong Animal Law and Protection Organisation says this is not mandatory. Two shipments of hamsters from the Netherlands—imported on December 22, 2021, and January 7, 2022—are of particular concern to authorities, per The Standard

The culling has sparked outrage among animal rights activists. Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals writes it is “shocked and concerned over the recent government announcement on the handling of over 2,000 small animals, which did not take animal welfare and the human-animal bond into consideration.” A Change.org petition has gained over 30,000 signatures to stop the culling of Little Boss’s small pets. 

This instances isn't the first time animals have been culled for testing positive for the coronavirus. In November 2020, Denmark killed more than 15 million minks after detecting a mutated form of the virus that spread to humans. The Netherlands and Spain also culled at least a million minks as well, per the Guardian’s Sophie Kevany.