‘The sheer cruelty and the fear in the animals’ eyes was paralysing’

Stop the Wildlife Trade: the global pandemic makes witness accounts from these sorry places more relevant and vivid than ever, reports Jane Dalton

These cats are sold and butchered in front of their terrified and blood-splattered cage mates
These cats are sold and butchered in front of their terrified and blood-splattered cage mates

It’s not just the smell of burning hair that lingers in your clothes for days, or the anguish of looking into the eyes of an animal condemned to death. Nor even the sight of gentle birds that should be flying free but are instead caged and desperately thirsty. No, what may get to you deep down is the sense of utter helplessness in the face of the mass suffering, and knowing the trauma of simply being there will never leave you.

Street markets around the world where live animals are taken to be sold, and often butchered on the spot, are invariably chaotic affairs, filled with the sight, sound and stench of death – alongside the casual chatter of traders and shoppers. As they amble by, most foreign tourists turn the other way. But there are a few brave people who, with a good idea of what they will face, actively seek out these places to tell the rest of the world about the horror in its full, bloody detail.

The eruption of a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people is making these accounts more relevant and vivid than ever. Open-air animal marketplaces, from South America to Africa and Asia, are now considered the major risk factor in the emergence of deadly viruses – and it’s not hard to see why.

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