~ Le Viêt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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In Year of Rat, Vietnam officials fear hamsters

Hanoi - Hamsters have become the fashionable new pet in Vietnam in this Year of the Rat, but the government has tightened controls on importing the rodents, fearing they may damage crops and spread disease if they escape from captivity, an official said Thursday. The Ministry of Agriculture's Animal Health Department sent an urgent communiqué to provincial animal control agencies on Tuesday, asking them to set up working groups to monitor the importation, transport and rearing of hamsters, according to the department's deputy director, Hoang Van Nam.

"If hamsters are found being imported illegally into Vietnam, they will be destroyed," Nam said. "Those that have already been illegally imported into Vietnam must also be destroyed." The ministry criticized organizations and individuals it says have recently imported large numbers of hamsters as pets, without seeking approval from the authorities or quarantining the animals. It said hamsters could damage crops or spread unfamiliar diseases if released into the wild. Hamsters are a European species not native to Vietnam, according to animal health department official Vang Dan Ky. Until recently, the few in Vietnam were mainly confined to research laboratories. Around Christmas last year, young Vietnamese people began buying hamsters to raise and give as gifts in advance of the Year of the Rat, which began February 7.

"This year is the Year of the Rat, and as hamsters are also members of the rat family, it is considered a lucky pet," said Nguyen Huu Hieu, 25, who keeps two hamsters in his Hanoi apartment. Hieu said many of the hamsters being sold in the market were imported from Thailand or bred in Ho Chi Minh City. The pets sell for between 150,000 and 500,000 dong (about 10 to 30 dollars). "I don't think the authorities will find out that I have hamsters," Hieu said. "But I think it makes sense to ban importing them illegally."

Deutsche Presse Agentur - February 28, 2008.