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Old June 3rd, 2003, 07:41 AM
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Malaysia says no to stray cats

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia will not accept about 2 000 stray cats from neighbouring Singapore that animal rights activists have rescued from being killed in a Singaporean cleanliness campaign aimed at fighting Sars, officials said on Monday.

The Animal Lovers League in Singapore last week said it planned to send the strays it had saved to the Noah's Ark animal shelter in Malaysia's southern Johor state, which is linked to Singapore by a causeway.

But Raymond Wee, the shelter's founder, claimed the Singapore group had not consulted him on the plan, which he stressed would overly burden the shelter. Noah's Ark already has 320 cats and dogs in its care, he said.

"We cannot accept any more stray cats," Wee said.

Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman also rejected the plan.

"Why must we settle the problem of these stray cats?" Abdul Ghani was quoted as saying by Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper. "Johor is not the place to cast off stray cats. We cannot accept the group's wish."

Cathy Strong, president of the league, said that the group had already run into problems getting export permits from the Singapore government and was developing an alternative plan - building a cat shelter next to an existing private kennel in an open area of Singapore.

The proposal was being submitted to Singapore veterinary authorities for a shelter that could accommodate 2 000 to 3 000 cats, Strong said. It would cost S$300 000 ($173 000) and could be funded by private donations.

"Everything is kind of straightened out," Strong said.

There are an estimated 80 000 stray cats in Singapore, but the government's current cleanliness campaign targets only those caught near markets and other places that serve food.

The culling is part of a hygiene campaign launched in response to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials say.

Singapore's Straits Times newspaper last week said the government is killing about 45 cats a day in the campaign. Many opponents of the killing have written letters to the newspaper.

Scientists in Hong Kong said recently they found coronaviruses - believed to cause Sars - in civet cats, raccoon dogs and badgers.

However, civets are not true cats, but belong in the same family as the genet, another small carnivore that is found in Africa.

The scientists believe the disease jumped from civets to people, exploding into a worldwide crisis that has sickened more than 8 300 people and killed at least 768 worldwide, including 31 in Singapore. - Sapa-AP
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