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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Animals suffer in the war on Sars
A woman carries her pet dog in Shanghai
There is no evidence that domestic pets can spread Sars to humans

Asia's Sars epidemic has been claiming non-human victims, as the Chinese authorities target domestic pets suspected of spreading the disease.

In Beijing, dogs and cats belonging to Sars patients are being rounded up and killed, officials said on Wednesday.

However other animals may be benefiting from the war on Sars, as China cracks down on the trade in endangered species.

Although veterinary experts have said there is no evidence Sars can be transmitted to humans from household animals, the authorities are taking no chances.

"Pets can spread diseases. People can take measures to prevent diseases being spread, but not pets," a Beijing police official told the French news agency AFP.

"If a family has Sars and they have pets, we will catch and kill the pets regardless of whether they show Sars symptoms."

Chinese citizens are required by law to pay a special tax if they want to own a pet, but in the past this law has been frequently ignored.

Now, however, the police have started to actively enforce it.

"If we find any stray dogs or cats, or if anyone make reports to the police about people illegally raising pets, we will send people out to catch the animals and deal with them," the official said.

Sometimes the pet owners themselves are eager to get rid of their animals.

A man in Beijing's Fengtai district threw his Pekinese dog from the sixth floor of his apartment block because he suspected it might have Sars, according to the Beijing Star Daily.

Animal markets raided

But Sars may be good news for China's endangered animals.

The nation is regularly criticised by animal protection groups for failing to stop the lucrative trade in rare species.

But now the authorities have launched a clampdown, because of concerns that smuggled animals could be carrying the deadly disease.

An official in the southern province of Guangdong said thousands of markets, restaurants and kitchens had been raided to check for protected animal species.

The Xinhua news agency said about 15,000 animal fairs and 70,000 hotels and restaurants had been raided.

Officials are reported to have confiscated more than 800,000 endangered animals and arrested 1,428 suspects.

Among the animals found were snakes, pangolins, anteaters, cranes, turtles and lizards.

While the link is far from proven, some experts believe Sars may have emerged in humans by jumping species from animals, perhaps from wild game.

Sars originated in Guangdong, where humans live close to farm animals, and endangered animal markets are a frequent sight.

Some of the world's most deadly pandemics are thought to have begun in southern China.

The BBC's Adam Brookes
"In Beijing the Sars virus continues to feed on the population"

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