The value of Tibetan mastiff, from luxury to nothing

More and more stray dogs on the Tibetan plateau are related to the rise and fall of the Tibetan mastiff market.

Figure 1. From the world’s expensive dog to rampant species

Previously, the domestication cost of the Tibetan mastiff was quite high. During a long term, the Tibetan mastiff was a kind of luxury that was forbidden to be bought and sold, and it was a symbol of the status of wealthy Chinese people, the number of the Tibetan mastiff had been limited. Further, the price of the Tibetan mastiff had risen from a few hundred yuan to even tens of millions of yuan in the last 30 years because of the celebrity effects and business hype.

But the Tibetan mastiff industry had entered an unprecedented winter period since 2013, the past popular Tibetan mastiff market suddenly dropped to freezing point: The Tibetan mastiff, which many people bought for hundreds of thousands of yuan, now no one kept them, and even some Tibetan mastiff farms had no choice but to treat the Tibetan mastiffs as meat dogs and sell them for several hundred yuan. The “deified” Tibetan mastiff in the early years has been ruthlessly eliminated from the market nowadays.

Why are Tibetan mastiffs overrun?

Soaring prices accelerate the development of aquaculture, the number of Tibetan mastiff has risen sharply, but the Tibetan mastiff breeding have obvious limitations.

The Tibetan mastiff is a special dog, which is only suitable for living in Tibetan plateau rather than mainland cities, and Tibetan mastiffs are ferocious and have a feature of territory consciousness, they pose a threaten to residents. Therefore, Tibetan mastiffs do not accord with city dwellers’ requirement of general pets. In recent years, there have been many incidents that the domestic Tibetan mastiffs attack people, these incidents lead to the consumption population gradually dwindled and the decreasing Tibetan mastiff economy.

In addition, Chinese government implemented and strengthened anti-corruption policy since 2013, and the dog control policy made city managers stricter to manage large and fierce dogs, the capital markets input shrinked seriously. These policies make the Tibetan mastiff price fall sharply.

However, the number of Tibetan mastiffs in the wild is not decreasing. On the Tibetan plateau, the local people have a belief in not killing creatures (Huber, 1991). The monks in the temple feed animals, and many stray dogs especially many Tibetan mastiffs will congregate around the temple.

They have a strong ability to adapt the living environment and reproduce quickly, since the number keeps increasing. A large number of stray Tibetan mastiffs in the natural environment catch and feed on wildlife and the existence of these stray Tibetan mastiffs will be a serious threat to the local ecological environment.

The infestation of Tibetan mastiffs is a great harm to wildlife

Figure 2. The stray Tibetan mastiffs hound a snow leopard.

  • The predatory behavior of stray dogs directly affects the number of wild animals in the local area

In many places, stray dogs can be considered as the most abundant carnivore and result in a sharp decline of a large number of native species and even endangered wildlife. There is an evident that one dog killed 600-800 (of 1000) Kiwis (Apteryx australis) in the New Zealand over approximately six weeks (Hughes and Macdonald, 2013). A document recorded that stray dogs attacked Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), saiga (Saiga tatarica mongolica) and argali (Ovis ammon) in Mongolia (Adiya et al., 2016).

Figure 3: stray dogs attack and kill argali in Mongolia (Young et al., 2011).

However, research also shows that another reason

  • Diseases transmission such as rabies and canine distemper virus may also severely impact wild species.

For example, the population of Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), a highly endangered species, decreased by 75% because of the infection of rabies epidemics over the last 20 years (Randall et al., 2006). The most serious incident is that the rabies and canine distemper outbreak in the Serengeti resulting in not only the loss of 30% of lions but also many other species (Cleaveland et al., 2007)

What’s worse is that, the number of stray Tibetan mastiffs will gradually increase without intervention. The stray dogs are more likely to obtain human food unlike other wild animals. Because there is a close relationship between dogs and humans (Driscoll and Macdonald, 2010). More food supply lead to the increasing number of Tibetan mastiffs, therefore, more wild animals may be predated. However, the declining number of wild animals will not obviously reduce the food source of stray dogs.

How to solve the problem?

In many areas of the USA build temporary shelters for stray animals, which can be taken to the shelter to conduct the medical treatment such as vaccine and birth control operation. In addition, a case study called prison pet partnership plan in the USA shows a feasible method for us to solve the problem. The plan is considered to be the most successful inmate regeneration program in the United States, the prisoners participating in the plan need to train stray dogs so that these stray dogs can help the disabled in their daily lives rather than being homeless or killed.

Therefore, we could build shelters for these Tibetan mastiffs to adopt and sterilize them without violating the local religious customs and beliefs, because sterilization can effectively control the birth rate of Tibetan mastiffs, and establish shelters can conduct a unified management to control their range. At the same time, we can also follow the example of the prison pet partnership plan, which can not only decrease the number of stray Tibetan mastiffs but also help the disabled people in our country.

No business, no harm, no business, no market.

The collapse of the Tibetan mastiff economy means that the economic bubble has been brutally squeezed out, the Tibetan mastiff market has been effectively purified and rational regression, the result must be able to guide the Tibetan mastiff industry for the better development. Therefore, many domestic pets, such as cats, should be guided as well.



Word count: 937 words, excluding title and references



Adiya, Y., Gunin, P. D., Naranbaatar, G. and Tsogtjargal, G. 2016, The present status and problems in the preservation of ungulate animal populations in the arid zones of Mongolia, Arid Ecosystems, 6(3): 158-168.

Cleaveland, S., Mlengeya, T., Kaare, M., Haydon, D., Lembo, T., Laurenson, M.K. & Packer, C. 2007, “The Conservation Relevance of Epidemiological Research into Carnivore Viral Diseases in the Serengeti”, Conservation Biology, 21(3): 612-622.

Driscoll, C.A. and Macdonald, D.W. 2010, “Top dogs: wolf domestication and wealth”, Journal of biology, 9(2): 10.

Huber, T. 1991, Traditional environmental protectionism in Tibet reconsidered, The Tibet Journal, 16(3): 63-77.

Hughes, J. and Macdonald, D.W. 2013, “A review of the interactions between free-roaming domestic dogs and wildlife”, Biological Conservation, 157: 341-351.

Randall, D.A., Marino, J., Haydon, D.T., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Knobel, D.L., Tallents, L.A., Macdonald, D.W. & Laurenson, M.K. 2006, “An integrated disease management strategy for the control of rabies in Ethiopian wolves”, Biological Conservation, 131(2): 151-162.


Young, J.K., Olson, K.A., Reading, R.P., Amgalanbaatar, S. & Berger, J. 2011, “Is Wildlife Going to the Dogs? Impacts of Feral and Free-Roaming Dogs on Wildlife Populations”, BioScience, 61(2): 125-132.


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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