Campaigners have failed to block the festival despite desperate attempts to rescue the mutts (Image: REUTERS)

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Campaigners in China have failed to block the start of a dog meat festival in which 5,000 animals are set to be butchered over the next 10 days.

Animal rights activists who brand the event a "public health risk" were hoping an appeal to the country's government would secure a last-minute reprieve for thousands of pooches.

But vendors at the Yulin Dog Festival have already been snapped selling slaughtered pups in Yulin, Guangxi province.

Eight stands were found by activists at Dongkou market, and a further 18 at Nanqiao market, according to Humane Society International.

Earlier this week campaigners managed to catch a truck making its way into Yulin and rescue the terrified mutts inside.

But another truck also being followed by the activists got away.

A butcher grills a butchered dog at a slaughter house in Yulin
(Image: REUTERS)

Chinese animal rights activist Mr Zhao, who runs the NoToDogMeat charity in Hebei, is coordinating rescue efforts.

The interventions work through a legal loophole whereby truck drivers who typically aren't carrying the relevant certificates to transport animals in China hand over the pups to avoid prosecution.

Julia de Cadenet, CEO of the NoToDogMeat charity, which she started in London 10 years ago, said: “So far the trucks have only been small, which says to us that they are trying to hide the fact that dogs are being transported.

Dog meat is served at a restaurant in Yulin
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

“Yulin authorities have made clear that the live slaughter of animals is now illegal and people will face big fines. We are calling on them to urgently enforce this new law.

“All of our reports will go to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, which has declared that dogs are friends not food.”

Officials claim there are checkpoints on highways to stop incoming trucks of dogs, but local activists insist that the vehicles are still getting through, according to HSI.

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It comes as the world continues to struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which is said to have started in a wet market selling animals in Wuhan over 18 months ago.

Local activist Xiong Hu said: “Stopping incoming dog trucks should have been a top priority for the Guangxi officials on account of disease risks and animal cruelty.

“Truck after truck of sick and dying dogs have been coming to Yulin for the past few weeks, and the local authorities just do nothing to stop it.

Campaigners are desperately trying to stage rescue bids as trucks full of mutts pour into the city
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

“After everything China has been through with Covid-19, you would think national and regional governments would crack down hard on the illegal and filthy dog meat trade to stop public health risks from this unnecessary trade.”

A petition started by the country’s major animal rights groups, which calls for action on the festival and trade in dog meat, has been sent to China’s minister of public health and minister of agriculture as well as the party secretary of Guangxi and Mayor of Yulin.

Vendors cut up dog meat at a market in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi region
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Meanwhile Dr Peter Li, HSI’s expert on China animal welfare policy, applauded the country’s progress after Shenzhen and Zhuhai became the first mainland cities to outlaw dog and cat meat sales and consumption.

But he cautioned: “This trade can be a ticking time bomb for zoonoses [diseases that can pass from animals to humans] and epidemic outbreaks.

“The public health and safety of China’s 1.4billion people can never be valued below the interest of the small number of dog meat traders.”