PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The Cambodian province that is home to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, a major destination for foreign tourists, has outlawed the trade in dog meat, which animal rights activists have said is rife in the area.
The authorities in Siem Reap province issued an order Monday banning the buying, selling and butchering of dogs for food. The trade remains legal in other parts of the country.
A recent report by two animal welfare groups estimated that 2 to 3 million dogs are killed annually in Cambodia for their meat, and that the Siem Reap region is a major source of supply of the animals, which are sometimes stolen pets.
The groups — Four Paws, based in Austria, and Animal Rescue Cambodia — said they identified 21 restaurants in Siem Reap specializing in dog meat and 110 in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.
The order banning the trade, which was circulated online Wednesday by several officials, declares that trading in dog meat is punishable according to the law on animal health and production, with violators facing up to five years in prison and fines of 7 to 50 million riel ($1,750 to 12,500).
It linked the ban to Siem Reap's popularity as a tourist destination and a sacred site. The Angkor Wat temples draw more than 2 million visitors a year, though tourism has dried up this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The order also pays tribute to dogs for being loyal pets and protectors of homes, farms and field animals, and decries the dog trade as inhumane as well as dangerous because it can spread diseases.
Older Cambodians generally shun eating dog meat because they believe it can bring bad luck, but it has become a minor fashion among younger people. Neighboring Vietnam is better known for the practice.
The animal welfare groups' report on dog meat in Cambodia in 2019 found that an estimated 2,900 dogs per month — or 34,800 per year — are served at restaurants in Siem Reap.
It said their investigation also identified one dedicated dog slaughterhouse in Siem Reap city and five high-volume holding or trading areas located outside the city that ship at least 3,750 dogs per month to other parts of Cambodia.