Human Interest

Take a walk on the wild side at one of China’s exotic pet cafes

By Víctor Escribano

Shanghai, China, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Pet cafes have been a popular feature of China’s big cities for years now, but some have taken it a step further by swapping the more habitual cats and dogs out for more exotic species like ducks, raccoons and even alpacas.

In the eastern megalopolis of Shanghai, the exotic pet zoo industry is growing, offering clientele a chance to not just observe, but interact with animals that would normally be in an enclosure at the zoo.

At his cafe in the city’s north, Xiao Qi, 35, has over 100 animals spanning 20 different species from purebred cats to pigs, chinchillas, rabbits, tarantulas, snakes ferrets and lizards.

But the stars of the show are a pair of alpacas, who spend their time grazing in a small pen at the entrance of the cafe.

Xiao Qi says each one of the animals, which are native to South America, cost him 30,000 yuan (around $4,600).

Most of the roughly 600 people who pass through the cafe’s doors each month are parents with young children or couples. Employees are trained to explain how each animal should be treated.

During Efe’s visit to the establishment, one worker taught a young girl how to hold a ferret by its front legs and make it do cartwheels, seemingly without putting the animal under any distress.

“Normally the people who come here are animal lovers and already know how to treat them well,” Xiao Qi says. “But if they don’t know, we explain how to do it.”

The cafe’s owner says none of the animals have ever acted aggressively towards a customer.

He does acknowledge, however, that he had to learn which species get along with each other when taken out of their enclosures, and which don’t.

Others learned that the alpacas prefer to be stroked on the head and have a tendency to spit if someone tries to pet their stomach or hindquarters.

“That happens more with us (the animal keepers), because we have to clean them, trim them,” Xiao Qi says with a laugh.

Asked whether a cafe is the best place to keep alpacas, Xiao Qi insists that they are good-natured and don’t spend all of their time in their pen. He says he takes them for walks in the neighborhood — much like he would a dog — and moves them to a “larger” enclosure at night.

“All of the animals are legal,” Xiao Qi says, adding that under Chinese law all of the species at his cafe can be classified as pets.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a two-pronged impact on his business.

He was forced to close the cafe between January and March last year during the early stages of the pandemic, meaning he had to feed the animals at a price of between 10,000 to 20,000 yuan per month.

The fact that scientific evidence suggests that the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 could have jumped from wild animals to humans via bats threatened to damage business.

But Xiao Qi insists that his cafe presents no danger and that his animals are healthy.

“If they don’t bite, they can’t transmit any virus, so all is good.”

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