Beijing [China], June 23 (ANI): In spite of the government's drive to discourage consumption of wildlife and pets for meat due to health reasons, the controversial dog meat festival has kicked off in Yulin city of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in mainland China.
The 10-day annual festival in the southwestern city of Yulin usually attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom buy dogs for the pot that are on display in cramped cages, New York Post reported.
But campaigners said numbers this year had dwindled, with hopes that this year's event could be the last.
"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 added.
The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats before crossing into humans at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has forced China to reassess its relationship with animals, and it has vowed to ban the wildlife trade.
The government is considering new laws to ban the wildlife trade and safeguard pets.
The country imposed a ban in late February on the sale and consumption of wild animals, such as bats and snakes -- claiming the issue had become a health concern.
In April, Shenzhen became the first city in the mainland to ban the consumption of dogs, with others expected to follow the suit. 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, was quoted as saying on Saturday at the Yulin festival that she believes eventually 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 future," she said.
"But banning dog meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time," Qianqian added. (ANI)