Graphic video footage of the festival shows hundreds of dogs trapped in cages. The cramped conditions of the dogs have raised fears of contagion after the coronavirus outbreak is said to have started at a wet market in China. The annual 10-day festival in the southwestern city of Yulin usually attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom buy dogs for the pot that are on display in cramped cages, but campaigners said the numbers this year have dwindled.
In recent weeks, China changed the classification of dogs from livestock to pets but have not yet fully banned the consumption of the animals.
The government is drawing up new laws to prohibit the wildlife trade and protect pets, and campaigners are hoping that this year will be the last time the festival is held.
Peter Li, China policy specialist with the Humane Society International, an animal rights group, said: “I do hope Yulin will change not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people.
“Allowing mass gatherings to trade in and consume dog meat in crowded markets and restaurants in the name of a festival poses a significant public health risk.”
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The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats before crossing into humans in a market in the city of Wuhan, has forced China to reassess its relationship with animals, and it has vowed to ban the wildlife trade.
In April, Shenzhen became the first city in China to ban the consumption of dogs, with others expected to follow.
The agriculture ministry also decided to classify dogs as pets rather than livestock, though it remains unclear how the reclassification will affect Yulin’s trade.
Zhang Qianqian, an animal rights activist who was in Yulin on Saturday, said it was only a matter of time before the dog-meat festival was banned.
“A lot of dogs are such animals, in great concentration, and with huge psychological and physical problems.
“Dog meat is a potential breeding ground for a pandemic.”
Activists have estimated that almost 400 dog and 200 cat carcasses were being sold each day.
The festival has taken place since 2010.