Photographs of a maimed camel have sparked uproar on social media in China after suggestions that beggars had cut the animal’s hooves off to elicit cash donations. Two beggars were photographed kneeling in front of the skinny camel, holding it by the reins as it crawled along the road in Foshan, Guangdong province over the weekend. The Weibo microblogger who originally uploaded the photos said the “camel’s limbs are maimed” and suggested the injuries were sustained in a deliberate act by the beggars. “Please do not harm animals to draw sympathy! They should not be used as an instrument of begging,” read the posting by a user with the alias “Xia Men Jiao Ya”. The posting quickly went viral on China’s biggest social networking site with many posters condemning the beggars’ alleged cruelty and others expressing sympathy for the animal. A number of users questioned however if the photos had created a misperception as they wondered if the camel had simply folded its lower limbs close to its thighs as it sat on the ground. But Nuerjiang Maidier, an associate professor from Xinjiang Agricultural University, who studies camel rearing, said the lower parts of the camel’s four limbs had been cut off. “The operations it seems were carried out by a veterinarian,” Nuerjiang said on Monday, after viewing the photos. “This is so brutal,” he said. Nuerjiang said that this is not the first time that he had heard reports of beggars capitalising on camels to make a profit. There had been several incidents of beggars in cities across China using camels to solicit money on the street, he added. The two men in the latest incident, for example, were reported begging on a street in Fuzhou, Fujian province, around six months ago. News portal people.com.cn cited local police at the time as saying the camel’s hooves were missing and suspected it was a result of amputation. Though wild camels are listed as one of China’s first-class nationally protected animals, those belonging to beggars are often identified as domestic camels, thus they are not protected by law. China’s animal protection laws only cover wild animals that are considered endangered species, or animals of scientific use. A proposal to prohibit all acts of cruelty to animals was published to solicit public opinion in 2009, but it was shelved before it was presented to legislators. Some legal experts concluded the law was too advanced for Chinese society and that improvement of citizens’ welfare should come before that of animals. As a result, although blatant acts of animal cruelty are frequently reported in China and inspire public outrage, the instigators are often not punished because of the lack of corresponding laws. “China should consult relevant laws in foreign countries as reference to set up our own animal cruelty laws in order to rein in such brutal acts,” Nuerjiang the professor urged.