The chef said he killed the cat on Tuesday following a request from his manager, district police chief Nguyen Ba Hung told reporters.

The manager, Nguyen To Chien, told police an acquaintance in Phu Tho province gave him the cat to look after.

He said he only decided to have the leopard killed when a customer asked him for cat meat. He intended to sell the meat at a price of 41 dollars per kilogram. The animal weighed 3.5 kilograms.

But Hung said that an investigation revealed Chien bought the animal with the intention of killing the cat for meat.

Both the manager and his chef have been arrested and will be punished, Hung said.

The animal is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has distinctive leopard-like spotted markings.

Vietnam lists the animal as a species in danger of extinction and it is illegal to hunt or sell the animal.

The reports have sparked furor among Asian animal rights advocates, who demanded to know how the restaurant was able to obtain the animal in the first place.

“I hope the police are doing more than just arresting the manager and the chef over this because it is obvious something was wrong in the first or how did the chef get the animal to the restaurant?” asked Parin Nguyen, a Hanoi-based animal advocate who has called on the police to investigate the illegal trade in endangered animals more vigorously.

“This needs to stop. Vietnam is one of the worst places for endangered species and the police have been hit or miss on cracking down on the trade,” she added.

By Brian Tersin - Bikya Masr - February 22, 2012