A county in southwestern China has killed as many as 50,000 dogs in a government-ordered campaign following the deaths of three local people from rabies, official media reported on Tuesday.
The five-day massacre in Yunnan province's Mouding county spared only military guard dogs and police canine units, the Shanghai Daily reported, citing local media.
Dogs being walked were taken from their owners and beaten to death on the spot, it said. Other killing teams entered villages at night creating noise to get dogs barking, then homing in on their prey.
About 360 of the county's 200,000 residents suffered dog bites this year, with three reported deaths, including a 4-year-old girl, the report said.
"With the aim to keep this horrible disease from people, we decided to kill the dogs," Li Haibo, a spokesman for the county government was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Calls to county government offices rang unanswered on Tuesday.
China has suffered a major rise in the number of rabies cases in recent years, with 2,651 reported deaths from the disease in 2004, the last year for which data was available, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts have tied the rise in cases in part to a major increase in dog ownership, particularly in rural areas where about 70 percent of households keep dogs. However, rates of rabies vaccination remain extremely low at only about 3 percent, according to the center.