Hong Kong’s first rabbit cafe in hot water over licensing problems
Rabbitland, which allows visitors to play with 12 furry friends in Causeway Bay, faces prosecution for operating food business without a licence
A cafe which houses abandoned rabbits in Hong Kong – the first of its kind in the city – is facing prosecution by government authorities for serving food without a licence.
Rabbitland opened its doors earlier this summer in Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, offering visitors the chance to play with 12 resident furry friends while enjoying snacks and drinks.
Its owners have said they want to encourage Hongkongers to learn about the animals, in a city where few people have the space to own a pet.
But a spokeswoman for the government’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) said yesterday that the department had begun enforcement proceedings after it discovered the business did not have a valid food licence.
“The cafe is not covered by any valid food licence,” she said.
“Upon investigation, we have [started proceedings] recently against the proprietor of the cafe for operating an unlicensed food business.”
The maximum penalty under the government’s Food Business Regulation Act is a fine of HK$50,000 and a six months prison sentence for operating without a restaurant licence.
The cafe’s owners did not respond to requests for comments on the FEHD action at the time of publication.
But in an interview with the South China Morning Post earlier this week, its co-owner Ricky Lam said his business was committed to protecting the rabbits’ welfare, after he faced criticism from animal rights activists. He added that he acquired some of the rabbits via online forums from pet owners who can no longer look after them.
“We have assessed what they need,” he said. “They are quite relaxed and you know when they are scared. They do not have any health problems. If they have any illness, I will take them to the doctor. We have got enough to keep them healthy.”
Bunny cafes have proved popular in Japan in recent years, particularly in the capital Tokyo.
Some operate as pseudo pet shops, giving visitors the opportunity to buy their favourite bunny, while others are more like shelters for neglected and abandoned rabbits.
But in the case of the Hong Kong cafe, the rabbits are strictly not for sale, and customers are banned from picking them up or pulling their tails or ears.
Children under the age of six are also banned from the cafe over fears that they might inadvertently taunt and scare the rabbits.
The animals are kept in open-topped wooden pens, opposite lines of dining tables and chairs, giving visitors the opportunity to lean over and stroke them.
They are locked in cages overnight, but Lam insisted that they are comfortable, saying they always have enough food and water.
“This gives them time to themselves, and ensures they do not receive too many snacks,” he said.
Rabbitland is the latest animal cafe to open in Hong Kong, following the success of enterprises such as the Ah Meow cat cafe in Causeway Bay and the SUS Pet Cafe in Yuen Long.
Despite the rabbit cafe’s rules and the support it provides for rabbits that would otherwise be abandoned, the establishment has caused a stir among local animal protection charities.
They claim that it prioritises human enjoyment over the rabbits’ welfare and is a “stressful” environment for the animals.
Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director of welfare for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said rabbits are not as communicative as dogs and cats if they are suffering, with their actions restricted to thumping their feet.
She also said it would be difficult for the cafe’s staff to ensure its rules about touching the rabbits were not broken.
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“We have strong reservations about these so-called pet cafes,” she said. “Primarily, the cafes are not there for the animals; they are used to draw people in.
“It is difficult for people to understand how negative this situation can be for the rabbits. On the outside, the signs can be quite stable – the animal might just be coping with its environment.”
Meanwhile, Jacqui Green, founder of animal welfare group Protection of Animals Lantau South), said that she was generally opposed to animal cafes because she considers them to be exploitative.
“Some rabbits can be highly sociable and enjoy human contact while others, I believe, might well find the whole concept extremely stressful,” she said.
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The government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) does not impose specific licensing restrictions on pet cafes.
But anyone who fails to provide adequate space, food and fresh water for animals, or subjects them to unnecessary suffering, faces a maximum fine of HK$200,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years.
A spokesman for the AFCD said that Rabbitland had not been reported to the department for animal cruelty.
“Members of the public may call the police or 1823 to report any suspected cruelty case to the AFCD,” he said.