BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese city has killed 36,000 stray and pet dogs in a bid to wipe out rabies, state media said on Tuesday, as the country considers a draft law recognizing animal rights and making such a cull illegal.
Rabies has killed 12 people in Hanzhong, in the northern province of Shaanxi, where more than 6,000 people had been bitten or scratched since late May, the China Daily said.
"The monitoring data showed that the danger caused by the dogs which carried rabies virus has increased and epidemic prevention and control is urgent," Xing Tianhu, deputy mayor of the city, was quoted as saying.
International animal rights groups have criticized China for cruelty, saying millions of animals raised for their pelts, including cats and dogs, are mistreated and inhumanely killed.
Raising dogs was banned under the rule of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong as a bourgeois pastime and was only made legal a few years ago as living standards rose.
Animal protection organizations expressed concern over the Hanzhong cull.
"The mass removal of dogs can result in the increased movement of dogs of unknown disease status from surrounding areas, thereby actually facilitating disease transmission and increasing the threat to human and animal health," Peter Williams, China director for the World Society for Protection of Animals, was quoted as saying.
China's first law to recognize "animal welfare" and include domestic animals is in the draft stage.
"Once it gets passed, the abuses of animals, such as the Hanzhong dog killings, is expected to stop," Chang Jiwen, a professor who led the drafting team, was quoted as saying.
Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie