BEIJING - A group of "crush fetishists" has caused an online storm in China after uploading graphic videos showing attractive young Chinese women crushing small rabbits.
In the widely circulated videos, several smiling women are seen in turn cuddling and playing with small bunnies just before crushing them as other giggling girls look on.
In one scene, a young woman places a bunny on a table before covering it with a plate of glass and sitting on it for about a minute. She then lifts the glass up to reveal the lifeless bunny, blood oozing from its snout.
Another of the girls dispatches one of the animals by crushing it under her high heels.
Media reports said kittens were also among the animals abused in the videos, although it was unclear whether the same group of girls was responsible for their deaths.
The videos have sparked a heated response from web-users, who launched what is known in China as a "flesh search"--an effort to reveal the girls' true identities.
"It is hard to imagine someone could be so perverted," said one chatroom entry on the popular portal NetEase.
"Flesh-search them! Uncover these rabbit abuse women and spit on them," said another.
Such online vigilantism has been effective in the past in exposing wrongdoing by corrupt businessmen, officials, and others.
The searches have revealed that a user group of animal-crushing enthusiasts was organizing and financing the videos, according to media reports.
A purported apology by one of the girls was circulated online this week, but many critics dismissed it as inauthentic and a bid by the fetish group to tamp down the outrage.
China Radio International quoted one girl identified as Huang Xiaoxiao as saying she had been paid to appear in several videos.
Payment started at 100 yuan (about $15) for crushing fruit, 200-300 yuan for "other small animals" and up to 400 yuan for rabbits, she was quoted as saying.
Animal crush videos are sold to fetishists in search of a sexual thrill. A bill to crack down on such videos is about to be voted into law in the United States, according to the US-based Humane Society.
China's censors have in recent years carried out a much-publicized crackdown on what they say is a proliferation of porn and other online content they deem to be socially undesirable.
China has the world's largest number of Internet users, with 420 million according to the most recent Chinese count.