Tibetan Mastiffs Once Prized as a Luxury Breed Are Abandoned to Starve in Lhasa

tibet-mastiffs-june-52015.jpg Man poses with Tibetan mastiffs bought at a luxury-pet fair in Hangzhou, China, March 18, 2014.

Large numbers of Tibetan mastiffs, a dog famous for loyalty to its owners and ferocity to strangers, have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa as demand falls for the breed prized until recently as luxury pets by wealthy Chinese.

Traditionally kept by Tibetan nomads in remote camps as guards against wolves and thieves, Tibetan mastiffs began around 2008 to fetch high prices as their popularity grew in China and the world market, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Around this time, Tibetan traders brought several hundred dogs to sell in Lhasa, and a park across the Kyichu river called Kumaling was full of dogs for sale,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“However, the demand for these dogs gradually decreased, and when prices fell, many of the dogs were let loose in the city streets,” he said.

Lhasa-area monks then began to collect the dogs and put them into fenced-off areas in Toelung and near Sera monastery, but their numbers began to multiply, and it became harder to keep them alive, the source said.

“Their condition deteriorated, and many dogs began eating other dogs in order to survive, while many others died of starvation,” he said.

There are now so many dogs that it is impossible to feed them all, the source said.

“Many remain hungry.”

China’s formerly thriving trade in Tibetan mastiffs was driven largely by demand from “status-conscious Chinese” willing to pay as much as U.S. $250,000 for the large and heavily maned dogs, according to an April 17, 2015 feature on the trend in The New York Times.

“Han Chinese consumers have been willing to pay a premium for anything associated with the romanticism of Tibet,” said Beijing-based marketing research analyst Liz Flora, quoted in The Times.

But buyers are now deserting the market, and prices have fallen, The Times said.

Tibetans responsible for trading and then abandoning the mastiffs are “heartless,” RFA’s source said.

“They have no compassion for the animals.”

Reported by Soepa Gyatso for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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