The Yulin Dog Meat Festival opened, even though the Chinese government has been campaigning to improve animal welfare. Activists are hopeful this will be the last year of the festival.
The annual 10-day festival in the southwestern city of Yulin usually attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom buy dogs that are on display in cramped cages. According to animal rights campaigners, the numbers this year have dropped.
The government is drawing up new laws to prohibit wildlife trade and protect pets. In April, Shenzhen became the first city in China to ban the consumption of dogs, with others expected to follow.
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 will be banned.
“From what we understand from our conversations with meat sellers, leaders have said the consumption of dog meat won’t be allowed in the future,” she said. “But banning dog-meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time.”
The agriculture ministry decided to classify dogs as pets rather than livestock, though it remains unclear how the reclassification will affect Yulin’s trade.
“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.
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 wildlife trade.