Southern Chinese authorities have killed close to 5,000 dogs in one city during a massive campaign aimed at stemming the spread of rabies, state media reported on Sunday.
Government officials in the city of Baoshan in China's southwestern Yunnan province culled 4,900 dogs and vaccinated 100,000 more after five humans died from the disease in recent months, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
"With five human deaths in the past three months, the municipal government in Baoshan City is carrying out a campaign to stop the threat," the report said.
The human casualties occurred in July and August in four different villages across Yunnan's western Shidian County, Xinhua said. Injuries from dog bites were also reported across the province.
Anti-rabies campaigns are not uncommon in China, where regional governments frequently order mass dog culls or issue bans on animal ownership to control rabies outbreaks.
In 2009, Chinese authorities in the northern city of Hanzhong killed some 37,000 dogs to stop the spread of the virus.
An estimated 50,000 dogs were hanged, electrocuted, or clubbed to death in a single week in southwestern China in 2006 after three human deaths from rabies were reported in the six months leading up to the cull.
Officials have also implemented a number of other dog population control measures across various provinces, including limiting the size and number of pets allowed by owners, and requiring permits for each animal.
Animals rights groups and dog owners have expressed outrage at the indiscriminate mass killings and treatment of dogs in China, and say the animals could easily be sterilized or vaccinated instead.
In response to the mass 2006 dog slaughtering, the Humane Society International (HSI) offered $100,000 to the Chinese government in assistance, as well as guidance to help implement a more humane animal control program.
"If they were to expand any further on the mass extermination approach, we'd be seeing hundreds of thousands or millions of dogs killed," HSI head, Wayne Pacelle, said in a letter to the Chinese ambassador to the US at the time. "We're offering them a way out … a solution. It's better for people, for human health and animal welfare."
Yet China's mass dog slaughters have continued for a range of purposes — including fur and meat production — and remain a contentious issue in the country and abroad.
Rabies is a potentially deadly but preventable virus that is transmittable from animals to humans. It kills around 60,000 people a year, mostly in rural populations in Africa and Asia where human vaccinations are not readily available, according to the World Health Organization.
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