Drooping eyes barely visible behind a mountain of glossy black fur, an enormous dog snoozes on stage in an industrial Chinese city. Its asking price: close to a million US dollars.
Massive and sometimes ferocious, with round manes lending them a passing resemblance to lions, Tibetan Mastiffs have become a prized status-symbol among China’s wealthy, with rich buyers across the country sending prices skyrocketing.
One red Mastiff named “Big Splash”, reportedly sold for 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in 2011, in the most expensive dog-sale then recorded.
Owners say the mastiffs, descendents of dogs used for hunting by nomadic tribes in central Asia and Tibet, are fiercely loyal and protective.
Breeders still journey to the Himalayan Plateau to collect young puppies.
Most of the puppies are unable to adjust to low altitudes and die during the journey, he added. “The success rate is not very high.”
The risks of travel lead other breeders to raise dogs closer to their clients in China’s wealthy eastern provinces.
Zhang’s wealthiest clients include the owners of coal-mines which dot the landscape of northern China, he said.
The sperm of pure-bred mastiffs can also be worth a fortune. “I would charge 50,000 yuan to sell his sperm,” Zhang said of his favourite dog, named “Moonlight Fairytale”, on sale for 200,000 yuan and weighing 155 kilogrammes (340 pounds).
The booming market has attracted a fair share of fraudsters, with some passing off crossbred dogs for pedigrees, using artificial hair extensions made with dog fur, the China Daily reported.
Intensive breeding has led to dangerous numbers of inbred mastiffs, while some vendors inject glucose into dog’s legs to make them appear stronger, the Global Times daily reported.
Out of control Tibetan mastiffs have also carried out attacks across China, with one dog wounding nine people in a frenzied attack in Beijing in 2012, said the Global Times.
Local newspapers reported in December that a 62-year-old man in central China’s Henan province died after being attacked by a Tibetan Mastiff owned by a local government official.
Regulations in Beijing and other major Chinese cities ban residents from keeping large dogs in downtown areas, but rules are sometimes flouted.
Vendors at the dog show haggled with locals over prices for cheaper crossbred mastiffs, but Zhang sets his sights on the higher-end of the market.