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Tibetan Mastiff loses its shine in China

2015-01-30 10:15 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

In addition to a Lamborghini, a Tibetan Mastiff was once the accessory of choice for rich Chinese to flaunt their wealth. But the ancient breed seems to be losing its glamour as the trend subsides.

The change is most evident to people like Luo Yi, 47, who once owned five mastiff breeding farms on the outskirts of Lhasa, capital city of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

After Luo amassed a fortune in the home appliances, he decided to start a Tibetan Mastiff breeding farm in 2002.

His farms, which were home to around 600 mastiff hounds, reached peak profitability between 2007 and 2012, when a pure-bred adult mastiff cost up to 800,000 yuan (about 131,000 US dollars).

With dropping demand in 2013, Luo kept only 300 mastiff hounds, slashed five farms to three, and dismissed one third of his workers.

"Sales began to decline in the latter half of 2013. I need to spend 15,000 yuan on them every day and fail to make profits," he said.

According to data released by the regional Tibetan Mastiff Association, Tibet had 95 breeding farms, which could sell nearly 10,000 mastiff dogs, before 2012. Now only 66 farms survive with 3,000 of the exotic breed sold last year.

Another report released by the Qinghai Tibetan Mastiff Association showed that the number of breeding farms in the province was decreased to 1,000 now from 3,000 before 2012. Yearly mastiff trade volume has dropped to 50 million yuan from 200 million yuan at its peak.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is not the only location experiencing a "Tibetan Mastiff bubble".

Wang Zhankui, chief of a Tibetan Mastiff research center in central China's Henan Province, said 90 percent of breeding farms outside the plateau are losing money. Nearly two thirds of them have already closed.

The shaggy, lion-like mastiff, native to Tibet and neighboring Qinghai Province, were traditionally used as shepherds and watchdogs by herders and known for a loyal but fierce disposition.

The Tibetan Mastiff craze began sweeping China in the 1990s. In addition to stocks and real estate, they became preferred pets and investment options for the country's rich. The trade was a boon for related industries such as mastiff feed producers, dog shows and exhibitions.

As interest in the breed surged, so did its price.

Media reported that a reddish brown pure-bred mastiff was sold for 10 million yuan to a Chinese coal baron in 2011.

Driven by profits, the number of breeders skyrocketed, leading to an over-production of Mastiff puppies. Many are highly inbred and of questionable quality, which may threaten the species' very existence in the long run and damage the reputation of the industry, said Wang Yonggang, chief of Tibetan Mastiff Association in Tibet.

The cold front striking the mastiff industry can also be attributed to strict regulations against large dogs in cities, Wang Zhankui said. Cases of Tibetan Mastiff pets injuring or killing family members and passersby are occasionally reported.

"In this way, people in downtown areas of cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin have been banned from raising Tibetan Mastiffs," he said.

China's ongoing anti-corruption drive has also taken its toll, Wang said.

Considered a symbol of fortune and status, the dogs became a fashionable gift from businessmen to officials in addition to cash and luxuries.

"But now businessmen don't dare to buy it. Even if they do, the officials won't accept it," Luo Yi revealed.

Following the bursting bubble, Wang Yonggang said the risky Tibetan Mastiff industry will be back to normal with more efforts on reproducing high-quality breeds and improving breeding skills.

Some breeders are looking to new profitable careers in agriculture and construction fields, while some others choose to hold their ground.

"I love to stay with the mastiff dogs, and won't give up regardless of how low the price is," Luo Yi said. "What should be stopped is people's modern-craze for this holy animal."

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