February 4, 2015 4:40 AM EST

Thousands of cats that were seized by Vietnamese authorities appear to have been buried, and many seem to have been alive at the time.

“Three tons” of felines were found cramped together in bamboo crates in a truck after being smuggled into Vietnam from China to supply the country’s illegal cat-meat trade, Agence France-Presse reports.

They were impounded in the capital Hanoi, but authorities didn’t know what to do with the animals.

“Several of them had died, there was a terrible smell that could affect the environment and carried risks of future diseases,” said a police officer from Dong Da district. “Therefore, we culled them by burying them.”

Animal-protection groups had pleaded with the authorities to spare the cats, and had even started an online petition urging the Vietnamese authorities to “change their animal-handling policies.”

They believe many of the cats had still been alive when they were buried.

Though the consumption of cat meat, known locally as little tiger, is illegal in the Southeast Asian country, it is still considered a delicacy and is served in many restaurants.

[AFP]

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Write to Helen Regan at helen.regan@timeasia.com.

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