Denpasar, Bali – Endangered wildlife is on sale at a market just a 30-minute drive from a convention center in Bali where US President Joe Biden and other world leaders will meet to discuss recovery strategies in the event pandemic at the G20 summit later this year.
Current inventory offered by various market outlets includes meter-long iguanas – kept in cages one-third the size of their captives amidst dead rodents on the ground – porcupines , pythons from the remote Indonesian province of Papua, frilled lizards, civet cats, great eagle owls, parrots and critically endangered Bali starlings.
A store featured a dirty water bath containing three African spurred tortoises, the third largest tortoise in the world, which comes from the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and is prone to respiratory infections when kept in humid environments like this from Bali.
Spread over two blocks, the Bali Bird Market is a fraction of the size of Jakarta’s Pasar Burung Pramuka, the largest bird market in Southeast Asia, and Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 is believed to have emerged after it was transmitted by bats, possibly to another species, before infecting humans.
But wherever wild animals and humans are crowded together, experts say there is a health risk.
“I’ve been to wet markets in China and you’ll never see so many animals and people in one area of the world, that’s why a lot of new diseases are now being identified for the first time. in China,” said Gusti Mahardika of Udayana University, the island’s most senior virologist.
“But you don’t have to have a very large collection of animals in one place for a new pathogen to emerge. It only takes one event for a virus to cross the species barrier, either directly from wild animals to humans or by jumping across other species. The Bird Market provides the perfect ecosystem for this.
Part of a large nationwide network of outdoor animal markets catering to Indonesia’s burgeoning pet trade, the bird market is popular among locals looking for pets such as rabbits, roosters, purebred dogs, cats and songbirds.
According to a 2019 study by Manchester Metropolitan University and Chester Zoo published in the scientific journal Biological Conversation, around a third of Indonesian households on the main island of Java keep commercially bred and/or wild-caught songbirds. .
There is no consumer mechanism in Indonesia, such as labeling or accreditation, to help buyers know whether birds are commercially bred or wild-caught. According to the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC International explains why Indonesia has topped its recent poll for the highest number of threatened bird species in the world. The country’s legal and illegal wildlife trade are two sides of the same coin.
In recent years, the Indonesian government has introduced legislation, such as the Animal, Fish, and Plant Quarantine Law, which provides for severe new penalties, including multi-year prison sentences and heavy fines, to counter trade.
In 2019, a Balinese court jailed a Russian national for 12 months under the law for trying to smuggle a baby orangutan in a suitcase through Bali’s international airport.
In 2020, a court in Sumatra sentenced the leader of a wildlife trafficking syndicate to four years in prison and slapped him with an unprecedented fine of one billion rupees ($70,000) for allegedly been in possession of a leopard, four lion cubs and 58 tortoises.
In January last year, 11,559 birds, including 17 endangered species, were seized from breeding facilities and markets in nine different provinces across the country.
“These seizures are important to prevent birds of illegal origin from reaching markets,” Serene Chng, Southeast Asia program manager for TRAFFIC, said in a statement at the time. “But to properly tackle this problem, Indonesia must place equal emphasis on ridding bird markets of illegal trade and reducing the demand that drives the trade.”
return the ball
The G20 summit is expected to be part of an effort to promote the return of international tourism to Bali and revive the island’s economy. More than 6.2 million foreigners landed at Bali International Airport in 2019. Last year, there were just 45.
Despite the threat the bird market poses to biosecurity and the island’s image, Bali’s tourism authority promotes it indirectly by granting accreditation to tour operators who include the bird market as a stop on their sightseeing tours. the city.
“When I made a statement about the biosecurity risk at the market, the only reaction was that the traders came to my house to protest,” said Gusti Mahardika of Udayana.
“I’ve complained about this several times to the Livestock Department about the risk of disease, but they say because it’s not livestock, they’re not responsible. They only worry when diseases affect chickens and pigs,” said Bayu Wirayudha, founder of the Friends of National Parks Foundation, a local NGO credited with bringing back the Bali starling, an endemic songbird, from the brink of extinction by establishing several sanctuaries on different parts of the island.
Wirayudha says bureaucracy sometimes even hampers conservation efforts. “When we have to bring in starlings from West Java, they give us a lot of trouble to get the permit. It takes us so long to get the quarantine approval, but the smugglers don’t have to s “Care. For them, moving birds across the country is easy,” he said.
The Bali Provincial Animal Husbandry and Health Service, or Department of Animal Husbandry, said the wildlife was not under its jurisdiction and referred Al Jazeera to the Bali Conservation and Natural Resources Center. Bali (BKSDA), which manages protected flora and fauna in Bali.
Agus Budi Santosa, director of BKSDA, said that “species traded in the market are unprotected species that cannot be covered by our ministry.”
Femke Den Haas, a Dutch veterinarian who has worked to protect wildlife in Indonesia for 20 years, says the response is typical of Indonesia’s bloated bureaucracy.
“They had monkeys on short chains at the market. I complained about it for years, but the wildlife department said they couldn’t do anything about it because it wasn’t an endangered species,” she said. declared.
“So we pushed the quarantine authorities because the monkeys are usually smuggled from Java and can carry rabies. Last week they got the forestry and livestock officials together and went to the market and rescued all the monkeys.
“When all relevant government departments come together in Indonesia, they can achieve very good results,” she said.