Thousands of cats seized from Chinese smugglers reportedly have been buried in Vietnam – with animal protection groups fearing that many of them may have been alive at the time.

A truck carrying 3 tons of live cats stuffed into bamboo crates – intended to supply Vietnam’s illegal cat meat trade – was stopped in the capital of Hanoi last Tuesday, the AFP reports.

Authorities initially were unsure of what to do with the cats, but a police officer told AFP on Wednesday that the cats were buried in accordance with local laws on smuggled goods.

"The cats were from China, with no official origin papers and no quarantine," a police officer from the Dong Da district of Hanoi said. “Several of them had died, there was a terrible smell that could affect the environment and carried risks of future diseases. Therefore, we culled them by burying them."

The officer declined to say how many cats were buried alive, but animal protection groups, which pleaded for the cats’ lives after hearing of their plight, fear that many were, the AFP reports.

Cat meat, known in Vietnam as “little tiger,” is considered a delicacy and is served in restaurants, although it is officially banned.

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