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How many dogs and cats are eaten in Asia?


The absence of dogs and cats from the agricultural statistics of almost every dog or cat eating nation tends to confirm that they are eaten not primarily for food value, but rather as a vice, believed to enhance sexual attraction and potency. Some of the Asian nations in which dogs and cats are eaten are descended from some of the first civilizations to keep written records. Statistics on grain production and animal husbandry in many ancient Asian empires are still accessible to scholars who can read the scripts.


Yet quantifying dog and cat consumption, either historically or today, remains more mysterious than estimating the numbers of children born out of wedlock, the truth of which is emerging through genetic research that seeks to trace the descendants of Genghis Khan and other legendary rulers. Polled by ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett, animal advocates in all parts of Asia confirmed from direct knowledge that dogs and cats are consumed in relatively small numbers by ethnic minorities, and are eaten in large numbers in parts of China and in North and South Korea. Few, however, could estimate how many dogs and cats are consumed.


Those who are trying to develop numbers are mostly still in the early stages of collecting data. The importance of becoming able to quantify dog and cat eating goes beyond just estimating the extent of it. As petkeeping becomes more popular relative to eating dogs and cats, and the pet supply industry becomes more prosperous and infuential within Asian national economies, petkeepers might be mobilized to influence poiticians to finally halt dog and cat eating.


Accurately assessing the economic strength of the dog and cat meat industry is critical, however --and it is especially important to discourage pet food manufacturers from perceiving dog and cat meat producers as a potential growth market, to be encouraged as some American pet food producers have encouraged puppy mills, in an alliance that has often obstructed humane legislation.


Vice is distinguished from other commerce by occurring out of sight of most of the public, in neighborhoods rarely frequented by decent people. Official records on vice are not kept by the agencies that normally track commerce because to keep records would be to admit the existence of a traffic of which many citizens disapprove. There are ways, nonetheless, to document the extent of vices.


Perhaps the best way is direct surveillance. For example, a discreet observer could count the dogs and cats sold and offered for sale on representative days at major markets. Alternatively, photographic mosaics could be assembled of entire markets, as Kim Bartlett did at the Moran Market near Seoul, South Korea, in May 2001, so that the numbers of animals in cages could be counted later. After this is done in a systematic manner, throughout the dog and cat eating regions, more precise estimates of the traffic can be made than are presently possible.


Meanwhile, from the limited available information, ANIMAL PEOPLE projects that Asia curently consumes about 13 to 16 million dogs per year, plus four million cats. Nation-by-nation:



There seems to be no evidence of either dog or cat eating. "My family came from Bangladesh to India," commented Visahka SPCA founder Pradeep Kumar Nath. "I have not heard of Bangladeshis eating dogs or cats."



"When my wife and I were in Cambodia last year," wrote Blue Cross of India chair Chinny Krishna, "we specifically enquired of many people about dog-eating and were told by almost all of them that dogs are eaten by some Cambodians, including the Cham, who are Muslims. Dogs are supposed to be haram or unclean in Islam, but obviously they are considered clean enough to be eaten in Cambodia. There are a lot of Thai and Vietnamese visitors to Cambodia who also eat dog meat. "Nobody mentioned cats. I have no idea as to the number of dogs eaten," Krishna acknowledged, "but obviously it would run into the thousands."


The Dorling Kindersley World Reference Atlas estimates that 4% of Cambodians are ethnic Chinese, 1% are ethnic Vietnamese, and the Cham are under 1%. Most Cambodian dog eating is probably by members of these three minority communities.


Most other Cambodians are ethnic Khmer. Historically, the Khmer were Buddhists, who ate fish and crustaceans but not many land animals. Most Khmer Buddhist teachers and traditions were exterminated and eradicated by the Khmer Rouge dictatorship of 1975-1979, however, and after decades of poverty, hunger, and ignorance, there may no longer be any cultural obstacle to eating any kind of meat. Historically, cats had a high status in Cambodia, as in Burma, but whether this view survived the Khmer Rouge is unclear.



Royal SPCA Asian regional representative Paul Littlefair estimates from direct observations and news reports that from six to eight million dogs per year are eaten in CHINA--a low total for a species consumed primarily for meat value, but a number that would be consistent with the perception of dog-eating as an occasional vice mostly engaged in by older men. The extent of dog eating in China appears to vary by region, appearing to be most prevalent in Guangdong, the neighboring southern provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi, and in Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces, adjoining North Korea. Commercial dog meat ranching is known to occur in Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Hebei provinces.


North Korean immigrants reputedly introduced or re-introduced dog meat restaurants to Beijing in recent years, after keeping dogs for any purpose had been discouraged for decades. Guangdong is the only province known for eating cats. The Yangcheng Evening News in early December 2002 tried to quantify Guangdong cat consumption. "A cat stall in the game-meat market can easily sell 500 kilograms of cat meat a day in winter," the editors estimated. "There are about 80 stalls selling cats in the three [game meat] markets. If each sells about 300 to 400 kilograms of cat meat per day, then the conservative estimate is that they sell about 10,000 cats a day," the paper said.


The Yangcheng Evening News asserted that almost all the cats sold to restaurants were domestic animals, and that many were stolen or caught on the streets.



Both dogs and cats are reputedly eaten by gypsies in various parts of India, but dogs are eaten openly only in Nagaland and cats are not openly eaten anywhere. "Nagaland has no dogs at all because they have all been eaten and there is huge trafficking in sending them dogs from other states. Imphal, Manipur has no dogs either," charged People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi.


Confirmed Pradeep Kumar Nath, "When I was in Assam two years ago dog eating came up, and it was evident that dogs were eaten mostly in Nagaland. Stray dogs are supplied from nearby states like West Bengal, Meghalaya, and Sikkim, and also from Burma.


There are now very few dogs in those areas unless they are bred for this purpose," Nath asserted. Visakha SPCA hospital manager Swathi Buddhiraju tried to obtain numbers through networking. "I have contacted a few people," she e-mailed, "but info is scanty. There are 16 tribes in Nagaland. A faction within each tribe slaughters dogs for food, The rough estimate given by one person is around 10,000 for the year," but Buddhiraju said she could not confirm this.


"The militant tribes of both Nagaland and Assam," resistingt Indian central authority, "are also consumers," Buddhiraju said. "In areas like Khamakhya there might be dog and cat sacrifices also. Dog slaughter is less in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya."


"Cats are eaten by some members of lower castes as well as by the gypsy tribes throughout India and by some people from Kerala," Nath said. "Thus cat eating is not just in one area, whereas dog eating is concentrated in the northeast."


"The narikorvas, a South Indian gypsy tribe, eat cats," confirmed Chinny Krishna. "My estimate is that five or six thousand cats per year are eaten."



Spokespersons for the organization ProFauna told ANIMAL PEOPLE that dogs are often eaten by the Dayaks of Kalimantan and the Bataks of North Sumatra. Dayak dog-eating, a ProFauna representative named Dedi indicated, may have a ritualistic and menacing context.


While surveying the Kali-mantan sunbear population, she wrote, "We were staying in one of the Dayaks' house, and a neighbor of his caught their home dog, who usually accompanied them to go to the jungle and guarded their house, and killed and ate it." Added Hardi, of ProFauna Jarkata: "There are many, many restaurants that serve dog meat."



"Dogs and cats disappeared in Japan during World War II, but usually Japanese don't eat dogs or cats," observed animal Refuge Kansai founder Elizabeth Oliver. "However there is a large Korean population in Japan, especially in the Kansai district," Oliver added, "and I have heard that they eat dog meat which is mostly imported from China."


Oliver also mentioned rumors she has heard about a covert traffic in dog meat operating from one regional hokensho, as Japanese animal control facilities are called.


The hokensho, Oliver explained in a November 2002 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column, are typically staffed "by workers who belong to the Burakumin class, equivalent to the 'untouchables' of India, who in medieval times lived in separate villages, could not marry other Japanese, and could only work in 'unclean' trades such as butchering, prostitution, sewage disposal, and undertaking."


Reports from visitors indicate that dog eating appears common in Laos, but quantification is possible only by projecting the crudely estimated rates of consumption in nearby nations to the Laotian population, with huge potential for error.


"Cats have never been eaten in Malaysia," said Pei Ling of the Sarawak SPCA. "Dog eating is dying out." Added Dr. G.S. Gill of the SPCA Penang, "In the 1960s, there were rumored to be three places where dog meat was sold in Penang. This is now a thing of the past. Some exotic breeds of dog and cat are eaten by sick individuals, but this is not done openly. The Wildlife Deptartment maintains a strict check on any such parties."



In Myanmar (Burma), said Pradeep Kumar Nath, "It is mainly tribal people who eat dogs." No other reports were received.


Dr. Durga Dutt Joshi, director of the National Zoonoses & Food Hygiene Research Center in Kathmandu, Nepal, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that "Dogs and cats are never eaten in Nepal, and it is illegal to slaughter dogs and cats."



"Based on numerous inquiries made to various sources nationwide," said anti-corruption crusader Freddie Farres of Linis Gobyerno, "it would appear that cat eating is not big here. Although we have heard of some personal consumption," Farres said, "there is no commercial traffic in cats for meat, unlike with the dog trade. Some 25 years ago a rumor was spread that a well known Chinese restaurant in the Philippines was caught unloading a truckload of dead cats who were supposedly to be used as ingredients for their siopao. There was a strong backlash against the restaurant, a nd their siopao sales collapsed. The incident is remembered to this day. "As to dog consumption," Farres continued, "we have researched the parts of the country which we believe account for 90% or more of the dog meat traffic. Our actual survey of the number of stores and restaurants selling dog meat, including wholesale vendors, indicates that in the Baguio City and Cordillera region about 24,166 dogs per month are killed for meat, or about 289,992 dogs per year."


"We do not allow slaughter of dogs and cats here. I have not heard of consumption of dog and cat meat in Singapore," Singapore Centre for Animal Welfare chief Madhavan Kannan asserted.


Louis Ng of ACRES shared a more formal response to a similar inquiry that his organization made to Dr. Yap Him Hoo, head of the Animal, Meat & Seafood Regulatory Branch of the Agrifood and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.


Under the Singapore Wholesome Meat and Fish Act, Dr. Yap Him Hoo explained, "meat can only be imported from AVA-approved sources which have met AVA standards. Similarly AVA also ensures that the local slaughter houses meet AVA standards. Although the Act primarily addresses food safety, welfare is a major consideration during the treatment and handling of live animals. In the case of slaughter, AVA accepts only internationally acceptable humane methods.


AVA is not aware of any humane methods of slaughtering dogs and cats for human consumption. AVA is of the view that eating dogs and cats is socially unacceptable in Singapore. To date," he added, "AVA has not received any requests to import dog or cat meat.


Recalled Deirdre Moss of SPCA Singapore, "We did have a case many years ago involving construction workers who killed a stray dog, possibly for consumption. A witness called the police, and the perpetrators were jailed." Other sources indicated that the offenders were Thais. Similar accounts of "Thai" workers killing and eating dogs and sometimes cats have reached ANIMAL PEOPLE from Israel, but the "Thais" usually turn out to be ethnic Chinese refugees originally from Vietnam, who fled to Thailand after the Vietnam War.


Parallel cases involving South Korean construction workers have occurred in Japan.

South Korea

Evaluating the limited available official statistics, plus the photographic documentation of the Moran Market obtained in May 2001, ANIMAL PEOPLE has estimated that from 1.1 to 1.3 million dogs are eaten in South Korea each year, along with 100,000 cats. "I think your figures may be about right," opined Royal SPCA representative Paul Littlefair. "I met with the head of the dog meat traders association in November 1999.


He told me that consumption had halved over the decade since 1990, and I don't think there were ever more than 2-3 million dogs a year killed for food. For cats the figure also seems reasonable or maybe a little high, given that there are only a handful of cats offered for sale alongside the dogs at markets like Moran, Chung Ang, etc. "Although Korean traditional medicine follows Chinese practice fairly closely," Littlefair added, "the Chinese eat dog in the winter for its purported warming properties, whereas in Korea dogs are eaten at the height of summer. This underlines the spurious nature of the claims of the dealers that dog meat has health benefits. The Korean minority in China must get very confused!"

Sri Lanka

ANIMAL PEOPLE was told of occasional incidents in Sri Lanka in which butchers and restauranteurs illegally sold dog and cat meat, usually disguised as other kinds of meat, but neither dogs nor cats are openly eaten there.


Dogs are reportedly eaten in parts of the Russian Far East adjacent to China, where there is also said to be an active traffic in stolen dogs for export to China both for meat and as pets (depending on breed), but no one has specified how many dogs are involved.


Wrote Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan chair Wu Hung, "There is no official estimate of the number of dogs eaten every year before the dog meat trade was banned in January 2001.However, the government did figure out that there were 54 dog meat restaurants on the island. If each restaurant sold an average of one or two dogs per day, they would have been butchering 20,000 to 50,000 dogs per year.


"After the trade was outlawed," Wu Hung continued, "the volume may have been reduced to about a tenth of what it was, which would mean four or five dog meat restaurants still exist, killing about 5,000 dogs each year.


"Cat meat is not popular in Taiwan," Wu Hung added. Confirmed Paul Littlefair, "I have never heard of cats being killed for food in Taiwan."


About 52,000 dogs per year are eaten in Thailand, according to Roger Lohanan of Thai Animal Guardians. News accounts indicate that dog eating and cat eating were virtually unknown in Thailand before the U.S.-sponsored influx of ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam during the 1970s and 1980s.


Settled mostly in northeastern Thailand, the refugees introduced a growing and increasingly controversial commerce in both dog meat and dog leather.


Consumption of dogs is considered offensive by the Buddhist Thai majority, and has been discouraged to some extent by the Thai government, but has not actually been suppressed, to avoid heightening the already considerable ethnic tension between native Thais and the immigrants. (See page 14.)


The only statistics ANIMAL PEOPLE found pertaining to dog and cat eating in Vietnam were from news accounts of individual restaurant sales in Hanoi during Tet, a seven-day holiday during which dog consumption peaks.


There was also a mention that dogs are usually eaten only during the second half of each lunar month, and even then at a relatively low level compared to Tet.


Some analysis can be done from this data, crude as it is.


If 300 dog meat restaurants in Hanoi sell 120 dogs per day during Tet, as the news coverage indicates, Hanoi consumption during Tet would be 252,000.


If the Hanoi restaurants sell five dogs per day during the second half of each lunar month the rest of the year, total annual Hanoi restaurant consumption of dogs would be 503,250.


If home consumption of dogs is as high, about a million dogs might be eaten in Hanoi per year.


Hanoi has about four million people, Saigon has 4.6 million, and Haiphong, the third largest city in Vietnam, has 1.7 million. If dogs are eaten at the same rate in Saigon, where dog-eating was not prominent during the Vietnam War, and in Haiphong, total urban consumption would be about 2.6 million a year.


Vietnam has 81 million human residents, but the rural majority probably cannot afford to eat dogs as often as city dwellers. Among the many Vietnamese ethnic groups, only the Montegnard were well-known for dog-eating during the war years.


This may not mean anything currently relevant, however, since the U.S. military presence in Vietnam ended 28 years ago. If all of Vietnam eats dogs at the projected Hanoi rate, total consumption would be 20 million per year. More likely, since Hanoi is the center of government and fairly affluent by Vietnamese standards, without the westernization that occurred in Saigon, Hanoi may account for from half to a third of all the dog-eating in the country.


Projecting all urban dog-eating at the Hanoi level and rural dog-eating at 10% as high produces an estimate of total consumption at four to five million dogs per year. That might be credible--although the actual balance of consumption by region may be quite different.


Cat-eating is illegal in Vietnam, since a healthy cat population is officially deemed essential to control rice-eating rodents, but sporadic accounts of raids on cat-meat restaurants indicate that cat-eating continues--like most vices--at a usually inconspicuous level. --Researched by Kim Bartlett, with analysis by Merritt Clifton