INDONESIA: In a landmark decision that has garnered international attention, the city of Tomohon in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, has officially prohibited the trade of dog and cat meat in its notorious extreme market.
This ban, effective from 21 July this year, is the result of years of relentless campaigning by animal rights advocates and a collaboration between the local government and Humane Society International (HSI).
The market in Tomohon has been infamous for selling a variety of exotic and domestic animal meats, including snakes, bats, and rats. However, with the recent ban, the trade of dog and cat meat has come to an end, while bats, rats, and pythons continue to be sold.
The ban is in line with various regulations, including local ordinances and national laws related to animal health and public health.
Edwin Roring, the Secretary of Tomohon, along with HSI representatives, visited the extreme market to officially announce the ban and rescue live dogs that were destined for slaughter. These dogs were taken to shelters for treatment and care.
The ban is supported by legal frameworks such as Law No. 18/2012 on Animal Husbandry and Animal Health, Law No. 41/2014 on Amendments to Law No. 18/2009 on Animal Husbandry and Animal Health, and Law No. 18/2012 on Veterinary Public Health and Animal Welfare.
It is also supported by local regulations, including Tomohon Regional Regulation No. 1/2017 on rabies control and prevention, and Mayor’s Instruction No. 108/WKT-2023 on the supervision, control, and prevention of rabies transmission.
“It means that the trade of dogs and cats in the extreme market of Tomohon must fulfill requirements including documents recommending the release of HPR (highly pathogenic animals) from the veterinary authorities of the originating region and the destination region, animal health certificates, and vaccination certificates from the originating region conducted within a period of 30 days to six months before departure to Tomohon,” he said.
Health risks and zoonotic concerns
Zoonotic diseases, which can transmit from animals to humans, are believed to have contributed to the origin of pandemics like COVID-19.
Dr. Agus Setiyono, an expert on zoonotic diseases from the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), warned about the dangers of handling and consuming wild animals such as bats.
He stressed that markets like Tomohon’s pose a significant risk of disease transmission and could potentially trigger the next pandemic.
“The animal market has a high potential for transmission. I can’t say it’s a ticking time bomb… but the next pandemic will be triggered by a higher intensity of interactions between humans and wild animals,” Dr Setyono added.
Animal activists in Indonesia have long fought for an end to the dog and cat meat trade, and while the ban in Tomohon is seen as a significant step, challenges remain.
Mixed reactions among local sellers
Local sellers expressed mixed reactions to the ban, some told ABC that they are frustrated because local activists, collaborating with the Humane Society, have pressured them to change their traditional practices.
The local government recognizes the complexities of these changes, especially since the livelihoods of some residents are intertwined with the trade.
Edwin also stated that they will cease all trade of dog and cat meat, as well as its products, that are not accompanied by animal health certificates.
“We hope Tomohon can truly be free from the trade of dogs and cats, as reducing the consumption of dogs and cats in Tomohon begins by halting their sale in the market,” he concluded.
Karel Lala, Head of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Tomohon, emphasized the importance of the ban in preventing the spread of rabies.
He said to VOA that over 95% of rabies-susceptible animals sold in the extreme market originated from regions with reported rabies cases, such as North Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, and Gorontalo, with many lacking proper health documentation.
Meanwhile, there have been 20 confirmed cases of rabies in dogs in the city of Tomohon in the last two years.
“Confirmed cases of rabies in dogs through laboratory testing and FAT, there were 12 positive cases in 2022 and eight positive cases in July 2023. ”
This number is only from the samples tested in the laboratory; some cases are not examined in the laboratory as the community directly buries suspected rabies-infected animals,” stated Karel Lala when contacted by VOA from Palu, Central Sulawesi, on 27 July.
Frank Delano, the Program Manager of Animal Friends Manado Indonesia (AFMI), expressed approval for the policy banning the sale of dog and cat meat at the extreme market in Tomohon.
In 2018, AFMI took the initiative to collect nine dog heads discarded in trash bins at Tomohon Market, Karombasan Market, and Tondano Market. The dog heads were subsequently examined at the laboratory of the Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry of North Sulawesi Province.
“Out of the nine, three tested positive for rabies,” Frank Delano stated on 23 Jul.
According to Frank Delano, the trade of dogs and cats for consumption in the Tomohon market has been ongoing for a long time. Until the 1990s, the supply predominantly came from local sources in North Sulawesi, but in recent years, at least 90 percent of the supply originates from outside North Sulawesi.
Dogs supplied from Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, and Southeast Sulawesi are often brought in already deceased, comprising 70 percent of such imports. In their place of origin, these deceased dogs are stored in holding facilities before being transported via four-wheeled vehicles to Tomohon.
Preservation is done haphazardly using ice. Typically, it takes up to two weeks before these deceased dogs are sold at the Tomohon market.
“Before being brought to the market, they are first heated with a blowtorch to remove the fur. They are often smeared with fresh pig blood to give the appearance of freshness,” Frank Delano revealed.
Lucrative but controversial: A vendor’s $3,200 monthly earnings from the dog meat trade
Prior to the ban, dog meat at the Tomohon market was sold at a price range of Rp35,000 to Rp55,000 (approximately $3.62) per kilogram; live dogs were sold within the price range of Rp350,000 to Rp600,000 (approximately $39.50) per animal.
Live cat meat for consumption was sold within the price range of Rp100,000 to Rp200,000 ($13.17) per animal.
Frank suggests that the local government should establish a cross-border quarantine and monitoring station to oversee the transportation of rabies-susceptible animals such as dogs and cats to the North Sulawesi region.
If the supply decreases, the selling price would increase, potentially causing consumers to shift to other sources of livestock protein.
Some dog meat vendors have stated they will transition to alternative agricultural businesses, while slaughterhouse owners express uncertainty about their next steps.
One owner shared that they were making almost Rp50 million (approximately $3,291.50) per month from the dog meat trade, a relatively high income in Sulawesi.
When asked about their level of confidence in the persistence of the dog and cat meat ban, Frank’s response was, “70 percent. In Indonesia, nothing is ever 100 percent certain.” Both dog meat vendors and animal activists acknowledge that finding alternative employment will not be easy.
Some vendors in Tomohon believe that the sale of dog meat may eventually return to the market, even though local officials have promised routine inspections.
Tomohon’s dog and cat meat ban garners international attention
The action of the Tomohon City Government has drawn attention from various quarters, including foreign media outlets.
They have extensively reported on the recent announcement by the North Sulawesi (Sulut) government, which has put an end to the brutal and inhumane slaughter of dogs and cats in the well-known animal market in Indonesia.
For instance, the Associated Press, an American media outlet, highlighted the rescue of dogs and cats by Humane Society International and Animal Friends Manado Indonesia (AFMI) from one of the slaughterhouses in Tomohon.
Similarly, DW News, a German media outlet, mentioned that the public is encouraged to consume meat from animals in a more hygienic manner.
HSI hailed the ban as a historic step that would save thousands of animals from brutal and inhumane treatment.
The dog and cat meat trade has been a longstanding issue in Indonesia, with HSI’s records indicating that around one million dogs and hundreds of thousands of cats are killed for consumption annually in the country.
Long road to banning dog and cat meat trade in Tomohon
A long journey was undertaken to achieve the prohibition of dog and cat meat sales in Tomohon.
For a long time, the animal welfare group Dog Meat-Free Indonesia (DMFI) urged the Indonesian government to fulfill its promise to ban the trade of dog and cat meat, especially after videos circulated depicting the brutal killing of these animals by being beaten on the head and burned alive.
Lola Webber, the director of Change for Animals Foundation – a part of DMFI alongside Humane Society International, Animal Friends Jogja, and Jakarta Animal Aid Network – stated that this brutality continues to occur at the Tomohon Extreme Market in North Sulawesi.
“This is the most horrifying cruelty I’ve witnessed in 10 years, and these practices are carried out in front of children,” she said, as quoted by ABC News on 17 September 2018.
In December 2017, DMFI posted a video about the brutality in the Tomohon market, which went viral.
This sparked global condemnation and led to a letter being sent to President Joko Widodo, urging him to ban the trade of dog and cat meat. Over 90 Indonesian and international celebrities, including Cameron Diaz, Jane Goodall, Simon Cowell, and Ellen DeGeneres, signed the letter.
Representatives of DMFI also met with the Tomohon City Government in an effort to end the killing of dogs and cats there.
In the meeting, they successfully negotiated to end the sale and slaughter of dogs and cats at the Tomohon market. The government agreed to work with activists to ensure animal welfare. The target is to end the trade of dog and cat meat in the city within four years.
In early August 2018, the Director of Veterinary Public Health, Syamsul Ma’arif, promised to end what he referred to as “animal torture”.
The same sentiment was echoed by Katherine Polak from Four Paws: “Regardless of whether this is part of their tradition, the fact remains that it is still an act of cruelty to animals.”
Animals, including dogs and cats, deserve humane treatment and well-being. There are five principles of animal welfare formulated by Francis William Roger. Animals should be free from hunger and thirst, free from discomfort, free from pain, free to express normal behavior, and free from stress and distress.
According to Law No. 41/2014 on Animal Husbandry and Animal Health, animal welfare encompasses all matters related to the physical and mental conditions of animals according to their natural behavior, which must be applied and enforced to protect animals from improper treatment by humans.
Article 66A, paragraph (1) of Law 41/2014 states that anyone is prohibited from abusing and/or mistreating animals that result in disability and/or unproductiveness. Paragraph (2) states that anyone who becomes aware of such actions as mentioned in paragraph (1) is obliged to report it to the authorities. There are criminal penalties under Article 66A.
Violation of paragraph (1) is punishable by a minimum of one month and a maximum of six months imprisonment. Violation of paragraph (2) is punishable by a minimum of one month and a maximum of three months’ imprisonment.
If this positive law is genuinely enforced, there will be no more animal cruelty in this country.
Another fact speaks volumes. Data collected from July 2020 to August 2021 by the Asia for Animal Coalition reveals that Indonesia ranks first out of 10 countries in uploading videos of animal cruelty to social media, with 1,626 out of 5,480 uploaded videos and a total of 5,347,809,262 views.