http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/03/25-indonesia-wildlife-trafficking-felbabbrown The Cruel Wildlife Market
Hundreds of cages with birds, lizards, bats, and mammals were stacked upon one another, with tens or sometimes even hundreds of specimens crammed into one cage. Several dozen white-eyes (a bird genus) were squeezed into a cage appropriate for one canary. At least a hundred bats were stuffed into another container. In a cage atop this stack, more than fifty green agama dragon lizards, some dead, with their bodies rotting amidst those still alive, were desperately competing on the ceiling of their container for a little of bit space. Two baby civets, on sale for 400,000 Indonesia rupiah each (about USD 40) were shoved into an adjacent box. Like the rest of the unfortunate animals – squirrels, chipmunks, black-naped orioles, drongos, leafbirds, shamas, mynas, partridges, and the highly-prized and highly-threatened lories – the civets had no water and no protection from the full blast of the hot Indonesian sun. Many of the animals would die in this (in)famous Yogyakarta bird market before they were sold to new owners. Meanwhile, however, the Yogyakarta bird market, like other wildlife markets in Indonesia and East Asia, serves as a perfect incubator for diseases that can mutate and jump among species, such as avian influenza and SARS. Such zoogenic diseases could potentially set off a catastrophic pandemic killing millions of people. The spread of the viruses to domestic animals and people is exacerbated by the trade in roosters for cock-fights, also on sale in the market amidst the wild-caught birds and animals. Even the animals sold before they die in the hands of their traders often do not survive as household pets – typically the fate of species such as woodpeckers, eagles, and owls.
The inhumane treatment of the animals in the many wildlife markets I visited during my research across the Indonesian archipelago was as heart-wrenching as the devastation this unmitigated trade in wild birds and other animals wreaks upon Indonesia’s ecosystems. Orange-headed thrushes and white-crested laughing thrushes, available in cages to eager buyers, are now exceedingly rare in the remnants of Indonesia’s forests, for example.
To reduce the consternation and criticism of international tourists, Yogyakarta’s wildlife market was moved more out of sight – away from its previous location next the frequently visited old royal palace. Nevertheless, enterprising Indonesian young men on motorcycles still bring Western tourists to the market’s new location. A young German woman, with a Lonely Planet Indonesia guidebook tucked in her purse, was eagerly taking photos of the cages, her very short shorts and tanktop as much an affront to Indonesia’s cultural sensitivities in this conservative Muslim city as the appalling conditions of the traded animals are to Westerners. An emblematic introduction to the fusion and confusion of conflicting values in this modernizing yet tradition-bound country?
Hunters and Buyers
In the Indonesian Market
Indonesian buyers and sellers rarely exhibit any qualms about the ecological impacts of the trade and the conditions of the animals. Wildlife trade, particularly in birds, is deeply entrenched in Java’s culture. A Javanese proverb states that every man should have a house, a horse (these days often interpreted as a car, or at least a motorcycle), a wife, a kris (a traditional dagger), and a bird. Because of this strongly-held tradition, at least one third of Javanese households keeps birds, I was told by representatives of a joint international-Indonesian environmental NGO, whom I interviewed on the condition of anonymity. Indeed, strolling through middle-class neighborhoods of Javanese towns reveals house after house with several cages of prinias, bulbuls, orioles, laughing thrushes. Eerily, however, there are precious few birds in the Javanese countryside, most having been caught by traders.
The bird trade is so culturally-ingrained that only some environmental NGOs operating in Indonesia dare oppose it. “Our current priority is to preserve and try to rehabilitate the devastated Indonesian ecosystems. The bird trade is just too difficult; too culturally sensitive. Attempting to stop it could get us shut down or hamper our other operations, such as trying to restore at least a tiny sliver of Indonesia’s lowlands forests. The Indonesian police are not interested in the bird trade anyway. We count ourselves lucky when we get law enforcement action against endangered mammals,” one of the NGO representatives told me after I repeatedly assured him that I would not identify either him or the NGO.
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