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Tibetan Mastiffs: From Guard Dogs to Status Symbols to Hot Pot

Tibetan Mastiff

From QQ:

Foreign Media: Chinese Anti-Corruption Campaign Continues, Once High-Priced Tibetan Mastiffs Now Being Used for Hot Pot

Not long ago, Chinese people had gone crazy for Tibetan Mastiffs, where dogs like Nibble here, with drooping eyes and drooling mouths on their big heads, fetched prices upwards of 200,000 USD, roaming around the suburban houses of coal bosses.

But at the beginning of 2015, Nibble and 20 other Tibetan Mastiffs down on their luck found themselves locked in cages, with 150 other dogs, on the back of a truck.

If this truck had not been intercepted by Beijing animal rights activists, Nibble and the other dogs would have been taken to a slaughterhouse in the Northeast and sold for about 5 USD a head as hot pot ingredients, imitation fur, and linings for winter gloves.

Tibetan Mastiffs aren’t the only luxury goods that went from popular to the poorhouse in China. Black Audis, Omega watches, high-end baijiu sorghum liquor and high-rise apartments in third-tier cities are all victims of the slowing economy, and some are also victims of the ongoing campaign against corruption.

In the past, the clumsy Tibetan Mastiffs from the Himalayan Plateau were a necessary accessory for any Chinese person who valued their social status. 4 years ago, a red purebred Tibetan Mastiff named Big Splash sold for 1,600,000 USD, though cynics believe the price was artificially manipulated. A self-proclaimed professional said buyers at the time who had lost their senses would spend over 250,000 USD to purchase a high-quality breed.

Today, breeders of Tibetan Mastiffs are dealing with the consequences of over-breeding. Buyers have disappeared, and the price of the dogs has shrunk to only a small fraction of what it once was, hovering at around 2000 USD. Many disheartened breeders are willing to sell for even less.

Gombo, an expert breeder from Qinghai said, “If I had other opportunities, I would definitely get out of this business.” He said feeding a 160 pound Tibetan Mastiff costs 50-60 USD a day, which is causing significant stress for breeders.

According to information divulged from the Tibetan Mastiff Society, between 2013 and the present, out of 95 Tibetan Mastiff breeders, almost half of them have gone bankrupt. The once bustling purebred Tibetan Mastiff market in Chengdu has become a pet and aquarium exhibition.

From a certain perspective, the loss of interest in Tibetan Mastiffs reflects the fickle nature of consumers. Liz Flora, the chief editor of market research company Jing Daily, stated that fads are a huge driving force in China’s luxury market, that Han Chinese consumers were willing to spend money on anything related to the romanticized Tibetan Mastiff.

Nomadic herdsman have always used Tibetan Mastiffs as watchdogs, to guard against attacks from wolf packs. They have a piercing bark, and are adapted to the cold, thin air of the high plains. Like wolves, female mastiffs can only give birth once a year. Gombo said “they fearlessly protect their owner and owner’s property. Owners are proud of their dogs.” There were 3 mastiffs tied up in his courtyard, barking at and trying to charge strangers.

At the peak of the Tibetan Mastiff’s popularity, some breeders would inject silicon into their dogs to make them look stronger. At the beginning of 2013, one breeder sued a Beijing veterinarian, and was compensated 14,000 USD because his dog died on the operating table while undergoing cosmetic surgery. The owner explained, “If my dog looks stronger, the owners of female dogs would spend even more money to have their dogs breed with my dog.”

Li Qun, a professor and Tibetan Mastiff expert from Nanjing Agricultural University said that speculating businessmen were partially responsible for the corruption of a good market. However, following the spike in prices, unscrupulous breeders began to breed Tibetan Mastiffs with other breeds, diluting the value of the breed and driving away potential customers. By 2013, the market had already been overrun by mixed-breeds.

News reports of Tibetan Mastiffs attacking people, and even stories of people being killed also put off people’s enthusiasm for the breed. One professional said that although they are not naturally vicious, their extreme loyalty adds to the risk of them attacking strangers.

In recent years, many Chinese cities have prohibited Tibetan Mastiffs, further suppressing the demand for them, and increasing the risk of people abandoning their dogs.

The people who saved Nibble and the other dogs said that the animals were being transported under horrible conditions. Many of the Tibetan Mastiffs had injuries on their legs, and had already gone days without food or water. As the dogs were taken out of the cages (volunteers paid for their release), a third of them were already dead.

When Anna Li isn’t intercepting trucks carrying dogs on the highway, she operates a hedge fund. She said, “It makes you feel hopeless, that even when what they’re doing is illegal, even the police will not come help you stop them.”

Animal rights activists say many of the dogs were snatched off the streets, and some were sold by breeders anxious to get rid of imperfect specimens. From the swollen nipples on the female dogs, its obvious that they were abandoned during the lactation period.

Mary Peng, the founder of the Beijing International Veterinary Clinic, has seen many similar cases during her 25 years in China. She said, “Ten years ago, it was German Shepherds, then Golden Retrievers, then Dalmatians, then Huskies. When I think of how expensive they were a few years ago, I never would have thought they would end up on a meat truck.”

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Reasons why “Tibetan Mastiff Fever” has disappeared

Since ancient times, Qinghai has been the principal location for the production, gathering and buying of Tibetan Mastiffs. However, data from Tibet’s Tibetan Mastiff Society indicates that between 2003 and 2013, there were 95 mastiff breeders. Currently that number has dropped to only 66. At the peak of the mastiff trend, they would sell nearly 10,000 Tibetan Mastiffs each year, but in the last two years (2014, 2014) they only averaged around 3000.

At the same time, data from Qinghai’s Tibetan Mastiff Society proves that China’s “Tibetan Mastiff Fever” continues to cool. From 2010 to 2012, there were 3000 breeders, and now there are less than 1000. Yearly totals of Tibetan Mastiff sales dropped from 2 hundred million RMB to around 50 million RMB. Aside from the Qinghai/Tibetan high plains, the market has also frozen in other areas. Wang Zhankui from the Henan Central Plains Tibetan Mastiff Research Center said that 90% of the Tibetan Mastiff breeders in Henan are losing money and that there has been a 60% reduction in the number of breeders.

Besides reasons involving the anti-corruption campaign, the market’s lack of regulation, mixed-breeding, and cities prohibiting large-breed dogs have all contributed to the Tibetan Mastiffs fall from popularity. An industry insider believes after the “bubble” pops, the industry will be re-born, and this time investors will be more rational.

Specifically, while the “Tibetan Mastiff Fever” that started in the 1990s led to a rapid increase in the number of Tibetan Mastiffs, the number of purebreds actually became fewer and fewer, to the extent that they have even become endangered. Wang Yonggang, president of Tibet’s Tibetan Mastiff Society believes that the market is in an adjustment period, that the market of the past few years had been too speculative, with many people not understanding this kind of animal, and didn’t treat the industry rationally. Driven by the promise of greater profits, mixed-breading became more and more serious, leading to the nature and appearance of the dogs to change. Following their marketization, people are gradually becoming more knowledgeable about these rare animals from the snow covered plateau, and the price of ordinary Tibetan Mastiffs continue to drop. In addition, the cooling market is also related to many cities beginning to strictly enforce bans on large-breed dogs.

Comments from QQ:

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星晴的爸

5 Dollars? I’m not very educated, but even if the exchange rate were 1:20, I’d like to see you buy a meat-eating dog for 100 RMB.

[no name]

Tibetan Mastiffs are the kings of the snowy plateau. Shepherds see them as their best friends, and the strong ones able to kill several wolves. They belong in the grasslands. But some people blindly worship their fierceness, use them to make money or as a symbol of social status. If you don’t respect them, you aren’t qualified to raise one. All I can say to those who use them as food is that ignorance is bliss, it’s sad and stupid.

Kwei ,謉

I may not be very educated, but don’t lie to me! If 5 dollars can buy one, I’ll take 20. I’ll keep them in my house and zhuang bi.

Cindy

Just as I thought, the dog being so expensive was because these assholes were manipulating things behind the scenes [speculating, hyping the market]. It’s just sad that these dogs have fallen to become mere dishes. What a waste.

奔跑

If a dog bothers you, can’t you just not keep it? Why do you need to eat it?

周狒狒

If I had this much money to spend on a dog, I would buy a purebred Labrador rather than these long-term oxygen-deprived garbage Tibetan Mastiffs who not only eat a lot but have low intelligence.

~奔·奔~

Fuck, I can’t accept eating dog meat!

站直了别爬下

I’ve always been puzzled by whether or not dogs are protected animals. Say they are and yet you can see them everywhere and there are no relevant legal ordinances; say they aren’t and yet you still have those people all day calling on people to not eat dog meat and that dogs should be protected. Who can explain this for me?

苏格拉没底

If we don’t get rid of the maggots, they’re going to destroy the world!!!

某月某日

Tibetan Mastiffs are like ebony, artwork, and such stuff, their prices all hyped-up [artificially inflated]. People who like it will pay anything for it, while people who don’t won’t even take it for free.

龙舞苍穹

An illness of our countrymen: fads.

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