A controversial festival in China where thousands of dogs are butchered and served up as meals has gone ahead despite strong backlash from Chinese dog owners.
An estimated 10,000 canines will be slaughtered for their meat at the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin City in Southern China over three days.
The festival, which is fiercely opposed by many Chinese, begun June 21 and is intended to celebrate the longest day of the year.
A social media campaign with the hashtags #StopYuLin2015 and #itsnofestival has attracted international attention, with celebrities including Ricky Gervais calling for the festival to be stopped.
It was thought that the festival secretly went ahead a week ago in a bid to avoid protestors and a possible clampdown by Chinese authorities, who last year banned a similar festival in another part of the country.
Officials from Yulin refused to support the festival last year, which lend to fewer dogs being slaughtered Chinese animal rights campaigners said.
If you are outraged & disgusted by pics of animal abuse, don't just demand that the pics stop, demand that the abuse stops. #StopYuLin2015— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) June 20, 2015
During the three day festival, thousands of dogs are strung up, skinned and cooked in local markets.
It is believed many are family pets stolen in the months leading up to the festival.
Often the animals forced into packed cages with three to four other dogs, and are left out in the open unable to shield themselves from the sun’s heat.
Activists say the event is not only cruel, but that it is a major public health risk because the dogs are not checked for diseases and are often strays taken off the street are cooked and served to festival-goers.
It's misleading to call Yulin a Dog Meat Festival. It should be called a Dog Torture Festival. Because that's what it is. #StopYuLin2015— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) June 21, 2015
Organisers and vendors at the festival however have dismissed calls to stop the slaughter, claiming the animals are killed humanely, and that eating dog is no different from eating pork or beef.
The consumption of dog meat has historical precedence in China but in the last 30 years there has been a growing backlash against the tradition.
Of China's estimated 130 million dogs, at least 27 million are urban pets, and many of these owners have strongly lobbied the Chinese Government to end the practice of eating dog.
According to local media reports, Chinese pet lovers had been offering to “buy back” dogs ahead of the festival.
Currently there are no laws relating to animal cruelty in China, however the National People's Congress is to sign into law a bill that would punish animal abusers with a 6000 yuan (€850) fine.
An ongoing poll, published by the Xinhua State News Agency, found 87.9pc of Chinese felt there should be laws to prohibit animal abuse.
China slaughters 10 million dogs each year for their meat, a million of which killed at these type of festivals.