Rats! JB mall under fire for using live hamsters in CNY decorations

The year of the Rat is not off to an auspicious start for one mall in Johor Bahru which has come under fire for an unusual addition to its Chinese New Year decorations — live hamsters. 

Sutera Mall showed off their unconventional display in a short clip posted to Facebook on Jan 5, drawing the ire of animal lovers.

"Little hamsters took their baths, ate their fill and are ready to welcome a new day," read the caption.

The video showed several hamsters kept in decorative glass tanks that appeared to be outdoors, alongside other festive paraphernalia such as ingots and red ribbons.

According to PETS Magazine, hamsters should be housed at constant room temperature and should never be placed in an area with exposure to direct sunlight. A large cage with an exercise wheel is ideal so that the little critters do not get bored.

Many were not impressed by the setup and left comments accusing the mall of animal abuse.

"Where are the openings? How is it supposed to be well-ventilated? The hamsters need air to breathe and they are really afraid of the heat, okay?"PHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook"Hamsters are not meant to be toyed with like this! This is abuse! Even if you want to be creative, this is not the way!"PHOTO: Screengrab/FacebookPHOTO: Screengrab/Facebook

Visitors to the mall had also raised concerns about the animals appearing lethargic and not moving, Oriental Daily reported.

In an interview with the newspaper on Jan 7, a spokesperson for Sutera Mall confirmed that they had a total of 40 hamsters on display and explained that the mall conceptualises its Chinese new year decorations for each year based on the Chinese zodiac.

As 2020 happens to be the year of the Rat, the mall installed four glass tanks holding four different species of hamsters.

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"This is to prevent the different hamster species from fighting. So we separated them into the four tanks based on their species," she added.

However, this may not be a foolproof method of preventing conflict.

According to PetMD, hamsters — even those of the same species — can be territorial and prone to violent fights.

The spokesperson also claimed that the hamsters' lethargy during the day was normal as they are nocturnal and assured those concerned that the animals were well cared for.

However, the mall will be improving the ventilation in the enclosures and adding more shade in response to netizens' feedback.

The hamsters will be put up for adoption eventually, with priority given to employees of the mall, she added.

When asked if the hamsters will continue to be part of the display, she said: "Our original plan was to display the hamsters until the Chinese New Year is over, but we will have to see based on the circumstances."

In a comment on their Facebook page, Sutera Mall also apologised if the display had made shoppers uncomfortable and promised that "action will be taken".

kimberlylim@asiaone.com