Ban on dog and cat meat trade ends in Sulawesi

Tomohon Extreme Market was once the top tourist attraction in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province—a live animal market filled with everything from stuffed pythons to bats and rats.

But in 2018, the market faced international condemnation after animal activists filmed videos showing dogs and cats being brutally beaten and burned alive.

Humane Society International director of campaigns Lola Webber said activists have called on major travel companies to stop recommending the market as a tourist site.

Companies like Tripadvisor quickly followed suit, he said.

But banning the dog and cat meat trade, part of a long-standing tradition among the indigenous Minahasa people, has become much more difficult, he said.

A video has led to a ban on dog and cat slaughter at a notorious meat market.  Here's how activists did it

“We’ve been told for many years that you’ll never change North Sulawesi, you’ll never change Tomoho. It’s impossible,” Webber said.

They were wrong.

“Big win”

According to Humane Society International, in July Tomohon Mayor Carol Senduk signed a law banning the sale of dog and cat meat at the market, and the market’s butchers signed an agreement to permanently stop the sale, slaughter and trade of dogs and cats.

Webber, who has been working together under the name Dog Meat Free Indonesia since 2017 to change the “tremendous cruelty and suffering” on display at the market, said it was a “huge victory” for activists.

Since the ban came into effect, 25 dogs and three cats have been rescued. Lola Webber of Humane Society International said they were taken to a sanctuary run by Animal Friends Manado Indonesia for quarantine, after which they will hopefully be placed in “forever homes in Indonesia or internationally”.

Source: Humane Society International

“This is a huge victory for animal protection and the thousands and thousands of dogs and cats that are rescued from the Tomohon market every month,” he said.

Traders were given a “small grant” to stop participating in the trade, he told CNBC Travel, as a coalition of activists lobbied the government about the disease risks of live animal markets, from viruses like Covid-19 to rabies.

According to the World Health Organization, rabies is endemic in most of Indonesia, including the island of Sulawesi.

Next steps

Banning dog and cat meat from the Tomohon market is a step in the right direction, but the problems with the trade don’t end there, said Michael Patching, chairman of Impetus Animal Welfare.

One problem, he said, is the influx of stray animals. “Bali has dealt with this issue by poisoning stray dogs, which has been worse, if not worse, than those exposed to the dog meat trade.”

A live dog can cost up to $40, and a dead dog costs between $2.30 and $4 per kilogram, said Frank Delano Manus of Animal Friends of Manado Indonesia.

Source: Humane Society International

To combat this, the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition supports dog and cat spaying, neutering and vaccination programs in Indonesia, Webber said.

He said he hopes to use the Tomohon market ban as a precedent to work with the government, market management, butchers and the public in other provinces where dog meat is also eaten.

The poll showed only 5% of the Indonesian population had tried it, Webber said. Still, there are hotspots where it eats, such as Java’s Surakarta (or Solo) and North Sulawesi, the latter a predominantly Christian enclave in a Muslim-majority country. (In the Muslim faith, dogs, like pigs, are considered impure and therefore not fit for consumption.)

Lola Webber of Humane Society International talks about rescuing dogs and cats after the Tomohon market ban

In those areas, activists educate the public about the cruelty of the trade and the human trafficking that goes along with it, often resulting in the theft of family pets.

“We interviewed a lot of people who had their dogs and cats stolen,” Webber said.

Poor management

Many activists who spoke to CNBC Travel said poor governance is the biggest obstacle to ending the dog and cat meat trade.

Frank Delano Manus, an animal rights activist at Animal Friends Manado Indonesia, said 95% of North Sulawesi’s exotic meat is shipped from neighboring provinces without government inspections or quarantine regulations.

Chart of Indonesia’s dog meat trade

  • 2017: Bali cracks down on dog meat sellers
  • 2019: The kingdom of Karanganyar in Central Java bans the dog trade
  • 2022: The city of Medan and the capital Jakarta ban dog meat
  • Today: Bans exist in 22 cities and provinces

Indonesian officials did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

When his organization tried to ban the sale of snake and bat meat when the pandemic hit in 2020, it got a “straight back” from the government.

“When people ask me what the number one problem is in Indonesia, I always say it’s the lack of law enforcement,” Manus told CNBC.

Indonesia has a large pet-loving community, Webber said, including dog meat traders. “Every trader has a pet, at least one dog.”

Source: Humane Society International

It is illegal to sell dog meat to other parts of Asia, including Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But the industry lives in places like China and South Korea and Vietnam.

“While all the attention has been focused on South Korea, Indonesia and other countries, Vietnam’s dog and cat meat trade has continued to thrive,” said Rahul Sehgal, director of international advocacy at the Soi Dog Foundation, adding “millions of signatures.” online petitions made no difference.

Rescued animals are transported by members of Humane Society International to a care and rehabilitation center in North Sulawesi, Indonesia on July 21, 2023.

Source: Humane Society International

“In Vietnam, every third shop is a pet grooming salon, every fifth shop is a pet supply shop, but every 20th shop is a slaughterhouse or restaurant that sells dog or cat meat,” he said, adding that these shops are eaten up. cultural, superstitious and medicinal purposes.

“Like how the Chinese use rhino horns or tiger bones for traditional medicine, cat bones are said to cure many ailments, such as asthma,” he said. “But there is no scientific basis for this.”

Opening for more travelers

Although Tomohon Extreme Market was once marketed as a tourist attraction – and in some places it still is – the dog and cat meat ban could bring more travelers to North Sulawesi.

In a March 5 Tripadvisor post, a user discusses reading about Sulawesi’s dog meat trade.

The post reads: “Next trip would be to Indonesia, Sulawesi… I don’t care what you eat, but torture should not be a part of it. So I can’t travel there in good conscience.”

Screenshot of a post on Tripadvisor in a forum about Sulawesi.

Screenshot from Tripadvisor

The negative media attention frustrated dog meat traders, Webber said.

“People are going to see it and feel very strongly about it,” he said. “International tourists, national tourists and the local population themselves did not want to see this level of brutality.”

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