Hong Kong's first Rabbit Cafe – where customers can stroke a bunny while they eat – has opened and quickly found itself in hot water as the local government says it was operating without a valid food licence. The owners said that they came to the idea to open the cafe after seeing Japan's famous "rabbit island".

"We went to Okunoshima in Japan last year, and we were inspired by the atmosphere when having a meal with rabbits which could be pretty relaxing," founder Ricky Lam told Reuters.

"Also we all know abandoning rabbits is common so over half of rabbits in our cafe were adopted,"

But Rabbitland in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong did not have long to enjoy quiet cuddles, with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department saying the owner could face a fine.

A spokesperson for the department told the South China Morning Post that "the cafe is not covered by any valid food licence" and that they had started proceedings against the proprietor. The maximum penalty for operating without a license is HK$50,000 (£4,900) and six months in prison.

A similar venture was attempted in the UK earlier in 2016 but the Bunny Blossom pop-up rabbit cafe had to be cancelled after it was heavily criticised by the public and RSPCA. The charity said that being handled by unfamiliar people can cause "stress and fear" to the rabbits. In a statement, they said: "We have serious concerns for the welfare of any animals used in a cafe environment."

"In a rabbit cafe rabbits will be expected to react in a friendly way when handled by strangers. Some rabbits might not enjoy being handled by strangers and so their use in this way could be very stressful. All rabbits must have opportunity to get away from people if they wish and to avoid being stroked or handled."