Courier Companies in China Deliver Live Animals in Sealed Boxes

May 11, 2021 Updated: May 11, 2021

The case of “live pet blind boxes” in China’s Sichuan province recently sparked public concern in the country, with even the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official media reporting on it. The matter involves not only the legal issue of delivering animals via a postal service, but also the just-implemented “Animal Epidemic Prevention Law” related to the CCP virus.

Shipping live animals bought online using regular express delivery is illegal but common in China. The practice has received little attention from the CCP’s official media in the past.

The incident in Sichuan that caught public attention happened on March 3. People found dozens of “pet blind boxes” waiting to be delivered at an express station in downtown Chengdu, Sichuan province, and they could hear the meowing of cats and the barking of dogs from inside the boxes.

Local animal rescue volunteers rushed to the spot upon hearing the news. They stopped the truck and cut open the sealed bags outside the plastic boxes so the animals inside could breathe. There were a total of 156 in this batch of “pet blind boxes.”

According to a woman who participated in the rescue, the carrier was a fully enclosed van, and the cats and dogs inside the boxes could have suffocated during delivery.

The so-called “blind box” originally refers to sellers randomly selecting a toy for online shoppers, so that consumers only know what toy it is after buying the product and opening the box.

The practice is used to arouse consumers’ curiosity and promote sales.

Later, products in blind boxes expanded to food, cosmetics, books, stationery, and more recently, live animals. In addition to cats, dogs, rabbits, parrots, and ducks, there are also snakes, scorpions, spiders, and lizards.

The CCP’s official media also acknowledged that even though e-commerce platforms and delivery companies knew that a special courier service should be used to transport live animals, in recent years it has become the norm in China to transport live animals by ordinary express delivery.

At the end of September 2020, a large number of live animals without receivers were found at an express delivery site in Luohe city, Henan province, due to problems with the miscommunication between the seller and the buyer. Some of the animals had already died, while more than 1,000 rabbits, 99 guinea pigs, and 200 cats and dogs were still alive.

On China’s e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and JD.com, a search for “live animals” brings up dozens of animals for sale, some as cheap as $2 to $3.

Shipping live animals through special channels can cost as much as $31, so many people are reluctant to do it that way.

State media have acknowledged that the postal code’s rules on the mailing of live animals are vague and inherently flawed, and that the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, which came into effect earlier this month, is not easy to enforce.

According to the new law, the transportation of animals and animal products must have quarantine certificates before being consigned. Delivering “blind boxes” by ordinary express is a way to bypass these regulations.

Liu Junhai, a law professor at Renmin University of China, said the public was concerned with the matter not only because delivery companies were illegally transporting live animals, but also because they did so without following strict quarantine procedures.