HONG KONG—Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have ordered the mass extermination of dogs following a wave of recent bites and amid growing fears of rabies, official media and residents said.
Animal activists have slammed the move as unnecessarily cruel, as it sanctions the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of animals without any tests to determine if they are infected with the virus.
Figures from the Jiangchuan county center for disease control and prevention show that there have been 1,600 cases of dogs biting humans so far this year, with 77 people bitten in the space of just two weeks earlier this month.
"Are the dogs that are biting these people in fact infected with rabies?" said Lu Di, founder of the nongovernment Small Animal Protection Society.
"Have they been tested? If not, then it's very doubtful."
She said authorities in Yunnan are no stranger to the mass slaughter of dogs, citing a similar cull of 50,000 dogs in Mouding in 2006, and a smaller one in Miluo county last year.
"Now they have started doing it in Jiangchuan," Lu said.
The government said that three out of six dogs killed recently and tested for the rabies virus were shown to be infected.
Calls to the Jiangchuan county government went unanswered Monday, while an official who answered the phone at the local center for disease control and prevention declined to comment.
"We have to get approval from the health department before we can accept telephone interviews," he said.
Jiangchuan county is home to an estimated 20,000 dogs, and local media reports said around 3,000 had already been killed.
Official guidelines ban the killing of dogs using knives or cudgels, and dogs are to be killed "cleanly," without bloodshed, local news reports said.
Photographs on news websites showed dogs being hanged from trees, dragged along behind motorcycles, and being chased by officials with nets and clubs.
People who had been bitten by stray dogs are eligible for a set amount of compensation in order to help with medical costs, the reports said.
A Jiangchuan resident said many people were happy to carry out the slaughter.
"Of course if one of your family has been bitten, people are going to want to kill the dog that did it," the resident said. "But not all dogs are likely to bite people."
"Some people support [the cull], but others are against it."
One anonymous guest on a Yunnan news website identified as writing from Beijing commented wryly on the story: "So if you find one corrupt government official, does that mean you are going to shoot all the officials?"
A 'temporary' solution
Officials say that rabies has been an endemic problem in China for many years, with a feral dog population that is spiraling out of the control, leading to more people being bitten in recent years.
But animal welfare groups say the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of dogs is unnecessary and inhumane.
Lu said her group is currently speaking with officials in Jiangchuan to try to persuade them to adopt a more moderate approach.
"Firstly, it's against the law to kill other people's dogs ... if they have a license for them," she said.
"Secondly, you keep having these waves of dog-killing campaigns in Yunnan, without determining scientifically whether the dogs are indeed infected with rabies and pose a threat to human life."
"This is extremely backward, ignorant, and unrealistic."
Original reporting in Mandarin by He Ping. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.