HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam has launched a crackdown on hamsters, a wildly popular pet here in the current lunar Year of the Rat, fearing an influx of the foreign-bred rodent furballs could spread disease and destroy crops.
From next Monday, anyone possessing or trading hamsters faces stiff fines of up to 30 million dong (1,875 dollars), the Vietnam News daily reported, citing a new agriculture ministry directive to enforce a ban imposed last month.
The communist government aims to end a youth craze for the fast-breeding animals, which were previously only imported for scientific research, but which have now spawned online hamster forums and real-life hamster clubs.
One hamster owner, using the online name Kun89, informed fellow aficionados in an online forum: "Hamsters like to play acrobatic games. If they do not have enough toys to play with, they will suffer from stress and die."
Authorities worry that rampant sales of the fluffy pets will spike before International Women's Day on Saturday, a major annual gift-giving event here that Vietnamese husbands and boyfriends ignore at their peril.
Amid the stern warning, the state-run Vietnam News reported, the street price of hamsters, many smuggled from China and Thailand without licenses or quarantine checks, has already dropped from over 20 dollars to less than 10.
Despite fears that hamsters may spread disease in cities and devastate croplands, there are no plans for a mass cull, the report said.
"Destroying them all is really a big problem," agriculture ministry official Nguyen Thanh Son was quoted as saying. "I think the Vietnam animal health department should take some samples, conduct tests and see how dangerous the hamsters in Vietnam really are."