Efforts to save as many canines as possible among the hundreds butchered during China’s annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival are reportedly underway as the 10-day “tradition” commences in less than two weeks.
The controversial event, officially known as the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival — in reference to the fruit that is also consumed by participants — was launched in 2009 in Yulin, Guangxi Province, to supposedly mark the beginning of the summer solstice. However, this cultural origin story is disputed by critics’ assertions that the festival was commercially motivated as dog meat traders struggled with sales at the time of its inception. Since then, tens of thousands of dogs and cats have reportedly been slaughtered for the festival. In its prime, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 animals were said to be butchered annually, but local and international pressures in more recent years — as well as the onset of COVID-19 — have reportedly reduced this figure to around 3,000.
Still, the festival will kick off on June 21. Elsewhere in China, the dog and cat meat trade thrive, leading to national estimates of some 10 million dogs and 4 million cats killed every year.
“It’s important to keep in mind that Yulin is just one location and one week in time, in what is an all-year-round trade that happens in multiple locations. Certainly other locations in the same province are showing signs of a very active dog meat trade, even as activities in Yulin have decreased,” Humane Society International (HSI) spokesperson Wendy Higgins told Newsweek.
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Despite the numbers, polls show that the majority of people in China — and even in Yulin — do not eat dogs, according to HSI. There are concerted efforts at the national level to ban dog meat, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs formally stated in 2020 that dogs are companions, not livestock.
The discourse against the festival highlights other realities. Contrary to what proponents might claim, dogs prepared for the event are neither raised for meat nor killed humanely.
The torture of these animals has become a spectacle for tourists at the festival. Thousands reportedly visit the annual event to dine on dog or cat stew, bringing an acute influx of cash into the city.
Activists are arguing that the resurgence of COVID-19 across China justifies the cancellation of this year’s festival. The idea of the festival becoming a super-spreader event, they say, should be a major deterrent for local authorities.
“While elsewhere in China, cities are in COVID-19 lockdown, it makes no sense for Yulin dog meat traders to be allowed to encourage visitors to travel across the province and into the city,” Liang Jia, a Guangxi-based activist, told HSI. “As well as the appalling animal cruelty that will take place with thousands of dogs and cats bludgeoned to death, it’s an obvious public health risk.”