Street stalls in Indonesia have been found still slaughtering and selling an array of animals including bats – more than a year after markets in China selling the creatures were first identified as a likely source of Covid-19.
Chinese authorities shut down the market in Wuhan and outlawed sales of live animals on the street in an effort to clean up the country’s reputation after the coronavirus outbreak.
Scientists suspect the virus originated in bats on sale at Wuhan and jumped to humans via other species, possibly pangolins.
Many were seen crammed tightly into cages or being tied up or blowtorched.
Traders were also selling chicks that had been dyed bright colours to be kept as pets but that were unlikely to survive.
Sources told the investigators from animal welfare organisation Four Paws that the markets have continued to function unaffected by the pandemic, even though the World Health Organisation has called for live animal street sales to be ended.
Experts say the insanitary conditions of live-animal markets are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases, those that can jump from animals to humans.
Cramming species into cages in unnatural conditions drastically raises animals’ stress levels, which makes them more susceptible to disease.
And putting in close contact animal types that would never normally meet in the wild increases the chances of viruses moving between species.
The witnesses, who visited three markets, said the conditions were insanitary and cruel.
Bats, dogs and birds were found in high numbers at Langowan market and Karombasan market, and many bats were found at Beriman market, as well as rats, a pile of snakes and the dyed chicks – a “brutal and toxic” sales gimmick to entice parents to buy them for their children.
Injured dogs were crammed together in tiny cages, waiting to be slaughtered.
Workers were not wearing gloves when they handled dead or live animals, and stalls were “partly covered with animal body parts and the floors with puddles of blood and maggots”, Four Paws reported.
One investigator said: “Covid-19 should make us pay more attention to how we treat animals. Keeping various stressed species in close proximity in cruel and unsanitary conditions, the brutal handling and slaughtering and the resulting waste and fluids are the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic diseases.”
After China’s live-animal markets were linked to the emergence of the coronavirus, governments worldwide faced a clamour of calls to ban live animal slaughter markets.
Scientists have warned the way animals are reared for consumption – both in cramped markets and on industrial farms - creates the risk of pandemics that would make Covid look like a “dress rehearsal”.
The WHO says that globally about a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses and that 75 per cent of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases originate in wild animals.
Ebola was traced to people eating bats, and HIV was believed to have emerged from people eating chimpanzee meat.
On the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 being declared a pandemic earlier this year, Four Paws accused the UN and governments of tackling the symptoms but not the root cause of the pandemic.
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