Animal welfare groups have stepped up a campaign to stamp out the illegal dog meat trade in South East Asia after harrowing pictures emerged of dogs being smuggled across the Thai border to Vietnam.
The images, filmed undercover by an Australian reporter, show the dogs and puppies crammed up against the bars of giant cages with so little room to move that many of them suffocate during the journey.
It's estimated as many as 200,000 live dogs are trafficked each year from northeast Thailand across the Mekong River to Laos and then on to Vietnam where dog meat is a prized delicacy.
Health officials warn the illicit industry is contributing to the spread of diseases in the region. The World Health Organization has linked dog meat to outbreaks of trichinellosis, cholera, and rabies in Vietnam and Indonesia.
"This problem is rampant across South East Asia," says Betsy Miranda, Asia coordinator for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. "The risk that the animals are in poor health and not vaccinated is very high. If they move across borders they risk carrying the disease across large distances."
In May, several high-profile animal welfare groups came together to form the Asia Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA), in an attempt to better monitor the illicit dog meat industry and lobby governments to crack down on the trade. The ACPA said they will work with authorities in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam to improve enforcement of regulations already in place and help raise awareness of the potential health risks.
Dog has been eaten for centuries across Asia; however, the meat, once eaten by poor families in rural areas, has become increasingly popular among diners in big cities including Hanoi and Saigon where a dog-meat dish can fetch as much as $60 dollars a portion.
As many as 5 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption a year in Vietnam - almost double the number of stray cats and dogs euthanized each year in US animal shelters.
Multi-million dollar industry
Supplying dogs to feed growing demand in Vietnam has become a multimillion-dollar illegal trafficking industry.
In Thailand, where selling dogs for human consumption is illegal, canine meat smuggling syndicates round up stray and pet animals from the streets, trafficking as many as 1,000 dogs across the border in one night.
Activists accuse authorities in Thailand of doing …