There are calls for people to stop eating bat meat from an “extreme” animal market in Indonesia, amid fears over the coronavirus.
WARNING: This story contains images and descriptions that some people may find distressing.
The self-proclaimed “extreme” market — officially named Beriman — sells a variety of animals for food, including bats, rats, snakes and dogs.
Syerly Sompotan, Deputy Mayor of the Indonesian city of Tomohon in North Sulawesi province, called on residents to temporarily stop consuming wild meats such as bat — suspected to have been the source of the coronavirus — until the official cause of the disease is known.
“We advise the public not to consume it [bat meat] until it was clear what caused the coronavirus outbreak,” Ms Sompotan said.
There are so far no official cases of the coronavirus in Indonesia, however some reports suggest it could be due to an inability to detect the virus.
Ms Sompotan said her plea was not the official stance of the local Government, saying the popularity and historic nature of the market made it difficult to shut down.
The market — which has been condemned for animal cruelty — has been a part of the community for decades and bat meat, which has become a delicacy in the region, can only be found in the market.
‘We’ve been eating these for hundreds of years’
A number of meat sellers and buyers told the ABC they were not concerned about the possibility that animals in the market could be carriers of coronavirus.
Yani Palit, a bat-meat seller, told the ABC many believed the virus would not affect locals.
“We’ve been consuming [these meats] for hundreds of years, it’s become a tradition,” he said.
Mr Palit said residents in the region prepared the meat until it was “safe for consumption” by cooking it in boiling water at least twice before dousing it in herbs.
Syane, who goes by one name, is a regular customer at the market.
“I’m not worried, because [the bats] we consume aren’t from [Wuhan], for me it doesn’t matter. I know what I’m eating,” she told the ABC.
Calls for further research
Cahyo Rahmani, head of zoology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, warned that wild animals were capable of carrying bacteria and viruses which could evolve and be transferred to humans.
Mr Rahmani said there was not enough evidence to support the claims of Tomohon residents that they had not experienced health problems from eating wild animals.
“As long as there is no empirical evidence explaining why they have never been sick, people should be taking preventative efforts such as not consuming wild animals,” Mr Rahmani told the ABC.
He called on Indonesian authorities to conduct further research into Indonesia’s animal markets and the potential for the presence of the coronavirus.
“Increased interactions between wild animals and humans, both through caring for wildlife and during consumption, must be better monitored and investigated to prevent transmission,” Mr Rahmadi said.
Garda Satwa Indonesia, a non-profit animal welfare organisation, called for animal markets to be better regulated.
“These animals should not be consumed because they are not covered by Indonesia’s livestock laws … and there are no guarantees the meat is healthy and suitable for consumption,” the group said on social media.
The NGO further warned of using “cultural reasoning” for eating potentially dangerous meats.
The ABC contacted the office of the Indonesian Health Minister which had not responded by the time of publication.