Farid M Ibrahim – Animal rights activists have urged the Indonesian Government to keep its promise to ban the brutal dog and cat meat trades, after shocking new footage emerged of the animals being bludgeoned over the head and blow-torched while still alive.
The Dog Meat-Free Indonesia (DMFI) coalition said the brutality was continuing at Extreme Market, in North Sulawesi's Tomohon City, despite the Government's promise to ban the practice in August.
"It was the most horrific cruelty I have witnessed so far [in] 10 years... and it was all done in full view of very young children," said Lola Webber, director of Change for Animals Foundation, part of the coalition that also includes Four Paws, Humane Society International, Animal Friends Jogja, and Jakarta Animal Aid Network.
"Every single dog and cat we saw at the market was blowtorched whilst clearly still alive," Ms Webber said.
The graphic footage seen by the ABC shows cats and dogs set on fire with blowtorches – all while still alive and in a busy market place where locals, tourists and children are present. The animals are also seen being beaten over the head by workers wielding large wooden bats.
'Nothing prepared me for the brutal catching of dogs'
Equipped with little more than his phone, a scooter and a small video camera, investigator 'Luke' spent four months infiltrating and documenting the brutal dog meat trade in Bali.
DMFI made its first in-depth investigations in December 2017, sparking a global outcry including a letter to President Joko Widodo calling for an immediate ban on the dog and cat meat trades.
More than 90 Indonesian and international celebrities including Cameron Diaz, Chelsea Islan, Jane Goodall, Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres signed the letter, and almost one million people have also signed DMFI's global petition.
In January this year, Governor of North Sulawesi Olly Dondokambey told local media Extreme Market was established to accommodate the sale of unusual animals for human consumption, including snakes, dogs, bats, cats and rats. "That's why it's called Extreme Market. There is nothing sadistic about this," Mr Dondokambey said.
A month later, DMFI representatives met with the mayor's office, where they successfully negotiated a pledge to end the sale and slaughter of dogs and cats at the Tomohon market.
The local government had agreed to work with the activists to promote respect for animal welfare, with the aim of ending the dog and cat meat trade in the city in four years.
In early August, the director of Veterinary Public Health, Syamsul Ma'arif, made a public pledge to end the trade, which he called "torture for animals".
He said under the Indonesia 2012 Food Act, dog and cat meat are not defined as food because they are not a product of farming or forestry. "Because of this pledge we went back to Tomohon last month and found that it is business as usual at these barbaric markets," Ms Webber said.
There is also increasing concern among Indonesian citizens at the lack of action by law enforcement officials to deter or punish gangs of thieves who terrorise neighbourhoods and steal pets from backyards and houses.
Jakarta Animal Aid Network said it received countless reports each week from devastated pet owners who have had their dogs stolen by armed thieves.
Concerns about deadly rabies transmission
The treatment of animals filmed by DMFI also flouts public health and safety regulations designed to protect citizens from deadly rabies transmission and the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Ms Webber said by the end of filming, they were all spattered with blood and brain matter from the bludgeoning, showing how easy it would be for customers and tourists to become infected with diseases such as rabies. "Two of our team were extremely sick following the market visit," Ms Webber said.
According to the health ministry, rabies is endemic in 25 out of 34 of Indonesia's provinces. The Government has pledged to eliminate the disease by 2020.
However, dogs and cats of unknown disease status are routinely transported across provincial borders and islands, into densely-populated cities.
The movement of diseased animals into those cities and provinces – including the capital Jakarta – is a major threat to communities that have worked hard to secure their rabies-free status.
Katherine Polak from Four Paws said as long as the dog and cat meat markets in North Sulawesi continued to drive the illegal trans-provincial trade into densely-populated cities, any attempts by Indonesia to secure its rabies-free status would fail.
"It only takes one lick, scratch or bite from a rabies-infected animal to require prophylactic treatment for rabies which is otherwise a fatal disease," Dr Polak said.
However, Governor Dondokambey of North Sulawesi said people eating dog and cat meat were not feeling sick. "People suffering from asthma are getting better after eating dog meat," he said.
But Ms Webber argued there was no scientific evidence for such claim. "Regardless of this being part of their tradition, it is still an act of animal cruelty," she said.