By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press WriterTue Aug 1, 6:26 AM ET
A county in southwestern China has killed as many as 50,000 dogs in a government campaign ordered after three people died from rabies, official media reported Tuesday.
The five-day massacre in Yunnan province's Mouding county spared only military guard dogs and police canine units, the Shanghai Daily reported, citing local media.
Dogs being walked were taken from their owners and beaten on the spot, the newspaper said. Other killing teams entered villages at night, creating noise to get dogs barking, then honing in and beating them to death.
Owners were offered 63 cents per animal to kill their dogs before the teams were sent in, the report said.
The massacre was widely discussed on the Internet, with both legal scholars and animal rights activists criticizing it as crude and cold-blooded. The World Health Organization said more emphasis needed to be placed on prevention.
"Wiping out the dogs shows these government officials didn't do their jobs right in protecting people from rabies in the first place," Legal Daily, a newspaper run by the central government's Politics and Law Committee, said in an editorial in its online edition.
Dr. Francette Dusan, a WHO expert on diseases passed from animals to people, said effective rabies control required coordinated efforts between human and animal health agencies and authorities.
"This has not been pursued adequately to date in China with most control efforts consisting of purely reactive dog culls," Dusan said.
The Shanghai Daily said 360 of Mouding county's 200,000 residents suffered dog bites this year. The three rabies victims included a 4-year-old girl, the report said.
"With the aim to keep this horrible disease from people, we decided to kill the dogs," Li Haibo, a spokesman for the county government was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Calls to county government offices rang unanswered on Tuesday.
China has seen a major rise in the number of rabies cases in recent years, with 2,651 reported deaths from the disease in 2004, the last year for which data was available, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts have tied the rise in part to an increase in dog ownership, particularly in rural areas where about 70 percent of households keep dogs. Only about 3 percent of Chinese dogs are vaccinated against rabies, according to the center. Access to appropriate treatment is highly limited, especially in the countryside.