BANGKOK (AFP) - Police in Thailand arrested two men Wednesday morning after they were caught smuggling more than 300 kilograms of dog meat in the back of a pick-up truck.
Officers discovered 16 dog carcasses alongside dozens of plastic bags stuffed with meat at a checkpoint in northeastern Sakon Nakhon province.
"Both men confessed to trading dogs in exchange for everyday consumer products," local police official Lieutenant Colonel Pongphet Juljamroensap told AFP.
The Soi Dog Foundation, which campaigns against the dog trade, said their undercover volunteers had tipped police off about the vehicle which was headed to Tha Rae, a town renowned for its underground canine industry.
"Cornered by the police car, the truck had no choice but to stop," the charity wrote on Facebook, estimating that the vehicle was stuffed with the remains of around 100 dogs.
Pictures posted by the group showed dozens of whole dog carcasses in the back of a dark truck packed in alongside clear plastic bags stuffed with chunks of meat.
Thailand is a country renowned for its love of dogs, especially among the country's middle and urban classes.
Eating them is rare outside of the far northeast where some Thai and ethnic Laos and Vietnamese communities are partial to canine cuisine.
But the northeast has long remained a significant contributor to the wider regional dog trade with pets and strays rounded up to meet demand for meat and skin particularly in Vietnam and southern China.
Regional fans of dog meat compare the animal to a less fatty version of pork and say the skin is particularly tasty when served crisp.
Dog skin is also used as a cheap alternative to leather with Thai police last year saying golf gloves made from dog skin were becoming popular.
Animal rights groups say Thailand's police have increased arrests in recent months, partially inspired by the passing late last year of an animal welfare law.
But the crackdown has resulted in dog traders choosing to slaughter pups in Thailand rather than risk exporting them alive.
"Before the law came in they (traders) would usually smuggle dogs alive at night," Roger Lohanan of the Thai Animal Guardians Association, told AFP.
"It's more difficult to smuggle out the dogs now, so they do it the old way, which is smuggling out just meat and skin," he added.
The two men were charged with illegally transporting animal carcasses and face up to a year in jail if convicted.