A dog meat festival where thousands of the animals are tortured and slaughtered has got under way in China.
Thousands of visitors usually gather in the city of Yulin for the 10-day festival, though attendance is expected to drop this year.
Vendors sell slaughtered pups and keep the animals in horrifying conditions, which has prompted repeated outcries from animal rights groups.
In past photos to emerge from the city, one worker was pictured grilling the dogs’ corpses as they lay in baskets.
Other customers have previously been snapped dishing out dog meat using ladles.
Dozens of the terrified animals have been crammed into tiny cages and put on display.
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.
Earlier this week, activists were able to intercept 68 dogs en route to the festival.
An activist told the South China Morning Post that they had to confiscate the dogs themselves after local authorities refused to get involved.
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However, another truck managed to make it through.
“I do hope Yulin will change not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people,” said Peter Li, China policy specialist with the Humane Society International, an animal rights group.
“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,” he said.
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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.
“From what we understand from our conversations with meat sellers, leaders have said the consumption of dog meat won’t be allowed in future,” she said.
“But banning dog-meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time.”
The festival typically runs from June 21 and June 30 began in 2009, with an average of 10,000 to 15,000 dogs slaughtered each year.
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Last year, disturbing reports revealed that defenceless dogs whimpered and howled in fright before they were boiled and burned alive.
Keith Guo, a media officer for PETA Asia, told Mirror Online the dog traders stun the animals in the head with a rod then blow-torch them to burn their coats.
They are then tossed in boiling water to remove any remaining fur.
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