For years the hot “mutton” biryani has been drawing passers-by to these roadside joints.

No problem with that – most Indians have a tender spot for biryanis, the merest whiff of their aroma enough to send hungry stomachs into a churn.

The point to ponder was: where were the cats disappearing?

An animal welfare group has claimed that what people have been eating for over two decades at some of these eateries in Chennai – thinking it was mutton biryani or mutton chop – was actually cats’ meat.

The group, People for Animals, has pointed an accusing finger at a section of gypsies known as “Narikoravas”.

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The organisation claims that the nomadic community has been catching cats and selling their meat to the eateries.

Apparently, the gypsy community had “purrfected” their art. “Narikoravas operate from midnight to dawn; catch cats with wire loops and nets,” Shiranee Pereira, co-founder of People for Animals (Chennai), told KhabarLive.

She said the Narikoravas trapped cats and sold their meat to small-time roadside eateries in the suburbs that would pass the meat off as mutton and sell it to unsuspecting consumers.

Pereira said her organisation had received complaints from people who had lost their pet cats. The issue was then brought to the notice of the city police commissioner through a recent petition.

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Following a discreet investigation, the group with police support recovered about 40 cats during searches at some Narikorava settlements in the city, Pereira said.

“Both we (the PFA) and animal lovers with police help have apprehended these gypsies on the streets and in the last two months… 40-odd pet cats have been rescued which now live a life of peace and care at our animal shelter in Red hills,” Pereira said.

The cats were mostly killed in the most “horrendous manner by throwing them in hot water”, she said.

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A senior police official, who heads the team formed to halt cat theft and the meat of the animal being sold as mutton, said the “action will continue”.

Pereira thanked the police for their help and said her organisation would approach the government to work out a rehab plan for the Narikorava community so that the “sale of cat meat” can be stopped once and for all. #KhabarLive