Harrowing images show dozens of puppies and kittens, some of them dead, packed into tiny containers to service a worrying new shopping craze called “mystery boxes”.
A raid carried out by animal rights group Love Home unearthed 156 boxes filled with baby animals who were set to be delivered to customers in China.
The alarming trend sees boxes delivered in the post to customers who do not know what to expect when they open it – but many animals do not survive the journey.
Customers pay as little as £3.50 for the boxes, some of which contain pets such as cats and dogs.
After the footage was filmed in the city of Chengdu, Love Home founder Chen Yunlian told state broadcaster CCTV: “I told the young man selling the animal blind boxes that he was making money at the cost of the lives of these animals.”
Although delivering live animals by mail is illegal, CNN Business reports that it is poorly policed.
The mystery box trend predominantly sees customers open packages to find items like action figures – with businesses hoping this spurs them on to try and collect a full set.
But some traders are less scrupulous, with CNN citing one offering a “fresh, little” cute containing a “random” dog for 599 yuan – the equivalent of £66.
Another site offers a dog mystery box for just 32 yuan – around £3.50.
In many cases animals are not fed or given water for a day before they are dispatched, in order to prevent them urinating and defecating in the boxes.
Many die from suffocation or starvation, Love Home says.
Writing on social media, Chen said: “Vendors usually stop providing food and water a day before the departure to limit animals’ excretions.”
In one box uncovered in the raid at the start of last month, three motionless dogs were found packed into a space of just 30 square cm.
It is not clear which mystery box company was selling the animals.
It sparked a huge backlash, with social media users voicing their disgust at the way animals were being treated.
The animal rights group posted: “Resolutely resist blind pet boxes‼ ️Boycott live transportation‼”
Scientist Evan Sun, of charity World Animal Protection (WAP) in China, said that not enough is being done to tackle the problem.
He said: “For people who want a pet, they should be aware that it is unaccepted to transport animals in such an inhumane way.”
State newspaper Xinhua fumed in a comment article: “Both buyers and sellers should start from their hearts, have more goodwill and more respect for life.”