Police in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou have intercepted a lorry carrying 500 cats destined for the cooking pot. There has been extra security on China's roads ahead of next week's once-in-a-decade leadership change, and officers in Xuzhou pulled over the lorry when they noticed it had out-of-town licence plates.
When they heard mewling from under the tarpaulin covering its cargo, they asked the drivers what they were transporting. "Rabbits," came the response. Instead, the lorry was carrying dozens of rusty iron cages filled with cats. In recent years, the appetite for cat meat in the south of China has created a supply chain that reaches across the country.
A notorious Cantonese dish is "Tiger and Dragon Locked in Battle", a hot pot of cat and snake meat. The appetite for the dish has already made cats scarce and costly in the southern region of Guangdong, and restaurants in the province have had to look elsewhere for a steady supply.
There is no law in China against selling cats, since cats are not regarded as household possessions. Cat snatchers generally make around 10 yuan (£1) per cat and sell them to middlemen who then arrange transport to the south. While the lorry had therefore not breached any laws, the police contacted animal lovers in Xuzhou who negotiated for almost three hours before reaching a deal with the drivers to buy their feline cargo for 3,500 yuan (£350).