Pure white plumage, round head and a small but fat shape – call ducks with their adorable appearance are becoming rising stars in China’s pet market,” China Daily informed its readers last year. A shop in Guangzhou was even making a living from customers wanting to spend time with them, the newspaper added.
But for many other Chinese, ducks are still best understood as something that goes into the oven, it seems.
The nation now reports some 90 million registered pets, with many more unregistered ones. Pet ownership has exploded in recent years with the Ministry of Agriculture finally reclassifying dogs as ‘companion animals’ rather than ‘livestock’ earlier this year. Dogs have also been dropped from the list of 31 animals permitted to be raised for human consumption (see WiC491).
However, pet ownership is still a relatively new phenomenon and the Chinese people can classify the same animal or bird in very different ways – as a recent case from Hebei illustrates.
A duck, which was raised as a pet by the friend of well known actress, was stolen this month by a passerby and slaughtered for its meat. According to media reports it was a costly domesticated call duck – and the incident sparked discussion when celebrity Wang Luodan revealed her friend’s dismay at the pet’s loss online. The prevailing view on social media was that the person who nabbed it was a thief for taking another person’s property. However, the belief was also widespread that rural folk could never comprehend the idea of keeping a duck as a pet and so the thief could not be held responsible for any further emotional distress her actions may have caused. “Different social circles have different understanding,” wrote the Shandong Daily, adding that it would be difficult for “a farmer woman at the grass-roots level” to imagine someone spending thousands of renminbi to keep a duck as a pet.
At the other end of the spectrum are the people who love their pets so much that they are buying insurance to cover the veterinary expenses in case they fall seriously ill. Alipay now wants to expand that market by launching its own range of dog and cat insurance. And to prevent fraud each policy will be linked to its holder by the unique nose print of the animal concerned.
Alipay says its nose recognition technology has a 99% accuracy rate. But creating the nose-print record has been a challenge, the head of its insurance division, Wang Feng, explained to the Global Times. “First getting a clear image of the pet is difficult because they don’t cooperate well with humans; second, animal’s facial features are different from humans, which means we find them harder to identify and compare. And we don’t have a lot of photos of pets’ noses, so its harder to build an algorithm,” he said. Less than 1% of pets are covered by insurance, compared to 25% in the UK, for instance.
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