14th March 2022, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and local leaders are facing fresh pressure to shut down the country’s brutal dog meat trade after sickening new video released by the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition, reveals horrific animal cruelty and public health risks at extreme wet markets on the island of Sulawesi. Dog and cat meat is seen being sold alongside bush-meat including bats, snakes and wild boar in scenes similar to those found at Wuhan, China where the SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to have originated.
Across Indonesia, an estimated one million dogs are killed for their meat annually. While a crackdown on the trade is being seen in parts of Indonesia such as Central Java, authorities in Sulawesi – a 70,000 square mile island with a population of nearly 20 million people - have failed to act.
An investigator for DMFI - which comprises local campaigners Jakarta Animal Aid Network and Animals Friends Jogja, and international groups Humane Society International, FOUR PAWS and Animals Asia – infiltrated the criminal gangs and traders who callously steal at least 4,500 pet and roaming dogs every month from villages in South Sulawesi and then sell them to traffickers to kill and sell for meat at local restaurants and at wet markets such as Langowan, Tomohon and Kawangkoan in the north. Some dogs are trafficked from as far away as Makassar, South Sulawesi's capital, a 40-hour gruelling journey covering 1,000 miles.
“What we have witnessed are the needless and merciless acts of dogs being killed for the meat trade. DMFI investigations have identified horrific companion animal cruelty in Sulawesi. As a member of the DMFI coalition, our efforts will continue to uncover, highlight, and push for action to be taken against the dog meat trade, a practice that has no place in Indonesia’s future.”
Karen O’Malley, Programme Manager for FOUR PAWS’ campaign to End the Dog and Cat Meat Trade in Southeast Asia
The investigator’s video shows traffickers hoisting terrified and screaming dogs by the neck from an underground pit as they are repeatedly bludgeoned across the face and head. Other scenes at the markets show cages of dogs huddling together as nearby the lifeless bodies of other dogs are blowtorched to remove their fur for sale to customers. Some dogs being blowtorched are visibly still alive during the ordeal.
Dog meat is not an expensive delicacy; a dish containing dog meat can be bought at market for around 25,000-35,000 IDR which is roughly $2, the same price as a couple of cans of coke. This low price point helps to keep the cruelty going at the scale exposed by the investigation.
Lola Webber, director of campaigns to End Dog Meat at Humane Society International, a member of the DMFI, said: “This is some of the worst animal cruelty we have seen – gangs and traders stealing and bludgeoning thousands of terrified, screaming dogs every month from villages, many beloved family companions. They are torn away and abused by these criminals in broad daylight, scared and helpless. All of this to be sold for their meat in restaurants and at wet markets on display alongside bats, snakes and wild boar. As shocking as our investigation is, it’s just a snapshot of the horrifying scale of this trade. Despite the serious public health risks associated with these markets, Sulawesi’s roughly 200 traditional markets are still operating business as usual. With Indonesia still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its origins in wildlife wet markets in China just the same as we see in North Sulawesi, it is a matter of urgency that President Widodo take action immediately to stop this dangerous and illegal trade.”
The DMFI investigator, who is not being named for his own protection, said: “The scale of the dog meat trade was really surprising. Thieves are stealing dogs from all over the island before selling them to the traders who warehouse them until they have enough to take to market. Mentally, this was a harrowing mission because every day I could see how utterly terrified and traumatized these poor dogs were. All around them they witness other dogs being dragged by the neck, beaten over the head, thrown around violently. They would tremble in fear when approached. Like me, the vast majority of Indonesians will be sickened by what I saw. This trade brings shame on Indonesia.”
DMFI is now seeking urgent meetings with the provincial and city authorities in Tomohon, Manado, Minahasa and Makassar to call for immediate action. The coalition of animal groups already works successfully with police and local governments in multiple other regions to crack down on the trade. In November last year DMFI campaigners joined Sukoharjo police in Java on a sting operation at an illegal dog slaughterhouse that saw more than 50 dogs rescued.
At least eight national laws and regulations exist that, if enforced, would serve to prohibit the trade, and thus far five regions in Indonesia – Karanganyar (2019), Sukohrajo (2021), Salatiga City (2021), Malang (2022) and Semarang, the provincial capital of Central Java (2022) - have passed explicit bans on the dog meat trade. DMFI now invites the Sulawesi authorities to follow suit.
Dog meat trade facts:
- Opinion polls show that only a small minority of Indonesia’s population (4.5%) consume dog meat and only a very small number of those involved in the trade rely on dog meat as their main source of income. Although demand for dog meat is higher in Sulawesi than the rest of Indonesia, latest opinion polling by Nielsen (2021) confirms that only 6% of Sulawesians consume dogs.
- Dog meat is mostly eaten by certain ethnic groups such as the Minahasa people of North Sulawesi where there are 24 markets collectively selling around 360 live and slaughtered dogs per day, amounting to more than 130,000 dogs every year.
- In 2018 President Joko Widodo received a letter from DMFI calling for action, and signed by 90 national and international celebrities including Simon Cowell, Sophia Latjuba, Yeslin Wang, Nadia Mulya, Lawrence Enzela, Cameron Diaz, Chelsea Islan, Ellen DeGeneres and Pierce Brosnan.
- Deadly rabies – a zoonotic disease endemic throughout Sulawesi – has also been linked to Asia’s dog meat trade by the World Health Organisation. North Sulawesi, the destination for thousands of trafficked dogs of unknown disease status, consistently reports some of the highest levels of human rabies mortality in Indonesia.
- Indonesia relies heavily on tourists from around the world who care deeply about their own beloved pets. In 2019, Indonesia recorded 16.10 million foreign tourist arrivals of which Australia was the 4th highest with almost 1.4 million holiday makers, the United States the 8th highest with almost 460,000 visitors, and the United Kingdom 9th highest with nearly 400,000 tourists. More than 770,000 people also visited from France, Germany and the Netherlands.
- Across Asia, opposition to the dog and cat meat trades is increasing, with an ever-growing number of countries and territories (Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and two major cities in mainland China) banning the trade in and slaughter, sale and consumption of dogs. In South Korea, a task force has been set up by the government to discuss a dog meat ban following a suggestion by President Moon Jae-in.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org