Taiwan's "holy pig" festival deemed cruel by animal rights group

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The decorated carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, is paraded in Sanxia district in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, is attached to a metal frame during a sacrificial ceremony in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers look on as the decorated carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, is paraded in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers tie-up a fattened pig which weighs 844 KG (1,861 lb) and is winner of the "holy pig" contest, before a sacrificial ceremony at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers remove the hair from the carcass of a fattened pig which is winner of the "holy pig" contest, during a sacrificial ceremony at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A fattened pig which weighs 844 KG (1,861 lb), the winner of the "holy pig" contest, is seen in a pen before a sacrificial ceremony at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The blood of a pig pools on the ground during a sacrificial ceremony in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The carcass of a fattened pig, which weighs 844 KG (1,861 lb) and is winner of the "holy pig" contest, lies after being slaughtered during sacrificial ceremony at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, is slaughtered during a sacrificial ceremony in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, is attached to a frame during a sacrificial ceremony in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers decorate the carcass of a fattened pig, winner of the "holy pig" contest, during a sacrificial ceremony at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The knife used to cut the throat of a fattened pig is seen before the "holy pig" sacrificial ceremony, at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A family member of the owner of winner of the "holy pig" contest holds a photo of the animal during a parade in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Trophy for the "holy pig" contest, is seen before a "holy pig" sacrificial ceremony, at Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers gather around the decorated carcasses of sacrificial pigs, winners of the "holy pig" contest in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Worshippers take photos of the decorated carcasses of sacrificial pigs, winners of the "holy pig" contest in Sanxia district, in New Taipei City, Taiwan February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu SEARCH "HOLY PIG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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SANXIA, Taiwan, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The winner of Taiwan's "holy pig" ceremony on Thursday defended the lunar new year tradition against critics who argue the fattened animals are raised under cruel conditions.

The ceremony harkens back to a time when early Chinese settlers to Taiwan used to pray to mountain gods and local deities for protection against wild animals and other threats.

Each new year, the fattened pigs are slaughtered and the carcasses decorated and paraded through the streets of Sanxia, a traditional district in northern Taiwan, to the temple.

The owner of the biggest pig wins the competition and with it an auspicious sign that the year to come will be a lucky one.

"This is a custom at our Tzu Shih Yeh (founder ancestor) temple in Sanxia. We cannot abolish this tradition," said Liu Ching-sheng, owner of this year's winning pig.

Animal protection groups say the process of fattening the animals -- a pig raised for the ceremony can weigh more than 800 kg (1763 lbs) compared to a normal weight of 120 kg -- is cruel.

"Just like for us humans, obesity in animals is a disease," Chen Yu-min, director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, told Reuters Television.

She said the pigs' movements are restricted while they are fattened and the additional weight puts a strain on their internal organs.

"In addition to the inhumane process of fattening is the last moment when they are about to be slaughtered. This moment is actually very cruel and inhumane," she said.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher and Damon Lin, editing by Darren Schuettler and Pritha Sarkar)

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