Volunteers from the Chengdu House of Love Animal Rescue Centre on May 3 stopped a truck on the street. There were more than ten layers of courier boxes in the truck with animals wailing inside. These 180 animals were pets placed in mystery boxes on the way to their “owners” across the country.
“Mystery boxes” are from Japan. As the name suggests, buyers cannot see what is inside a mystery box. Mystery boxes originally just contained different types of small toys. By purchasing blindly, buyers can either receive their desired toys, or already acquired and disfavoured ones.
According to the “Generation Z Player Shopping List” published by Alibaba Tmall International, more than 200,000 consumers spend more than 20,000 RMB (approximately 3,108 USD) on mystery boxes in China each year. Some even spend beyond millions.
At the beginning of 2021, mystery boxes sold on various e-commerce platforms no longer limited themselves to toys. Mystery boxes with living beings – pets such as turtles, cats, dogs, and birds – are an increasing trend.
“For online sellers, although the price for those pets is low, the cost is even lower since they are not responsible for vaccination and providing nutrition to the animals. The sellers are no doubt earning a lot. For buyers, along with the low price, which can be as low as 2.9 RMB (approximately 0.45 USD), they also seek excitement of the unknown. The buyers will then purchase those pet mystery boxes and discard the ‘unsatisfying’ animals,” Wang Meng (pseudonym), a volunteer from Chengdu, told China Philanthropist.
Some sellers claim the pets will be vaccinated. Yet, the so-called vaccine is antibiotics merely meant to ensure the pets will survive during transit. After reaching their owners, many pets do not survive more than a week.
“The puppies will choke to death in crowded courier boxes where the air is not well circulated. Many sellers will starve the animals before the transportation to prevent them from excreting in the boxes. This, along with the three-to-five days on the road starves many animals to death,” said Chen Yulian, founder of the Chengdu House of Love Animal Rescue Centre.
According to the informed sources, many pets from mystery boxes come from informal and unregulated breeding grounds where sanitation conditions are poor. These pets have health problems. The animals are then categorised by the sellers for different mystery boxes.
These kinds of mystery boxes not only endanger lives. They are also against the law. “By allowing business activities of mystery boxes with living beings, e-commerce platforms violate the E-Commerce Law, Consumer Rights Protection Law, and the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law,” commented Zheng Shulin from the Chengdu Farui Law Firm.
On May 7, China Philanthropist learned from the Chengdu House of Love Animal Rescue Centre that among the 180 pets, more than 50 showed symptoms and were sent to animal hospitals. Ten died. The seller has now signed an agreement with the rescue centre allowing the animals to settle at the centre unconditionally.