Tourists warned of danger in Indonesia
WARNING: Graphic content.
MORE than a million Australians flock to this holiday hotspot every year, but few are aware of the extent of its sickening underbelly.
And now there are fears that the health and safety of tourists is at risk on the streets of Indonesia due to the country's illegal dog and cat meat trade.
Campaigners from Dog Meat-Free Indonesia - a group of organisations including the Humane Society International - have issued a warning that visitors could be at risk of being exposed to the rabies virus due to contaminated carcasses.
The organisation revealed that tests of just nine dog carcasses from markets on the idyllic Indonesian island of Sulawesi showed one was infected with rabies.
They said the infection "hit rate" is consistent with published studies showing a high prevalence of rabies-positive dogs for sale in markets in Indonesia and other parts of Asia.
Rabies could spread to humans during the slaughter of dogs or contact with infected meat - with some tourists even being tricked into eating the meat by local vendors.
The alert comes as Indonesia prepares to host the 18th Asian Games next month, with the government hoping to attract three million tourists to the capital city of Jakarta. It attracts 12 million global tourists annually.
Earlier this year the campaigners released shocking footage and images showing the cruel treatment of the animals, who are tied up, thrown into vehicles and locked in cages before being bludgeoned in front of spectators at markets, with their hair burned off by blowtorches while still alive.
Most of the images are too shocking to show you, and will turn even the strongest of stomachs.
The scenes of animal suffering led to the submission of a letter to President Joko Widodo signed by over 90 celebrities including Cameron Diaz and Ellen DeGeneres, calling for urgent action.
"Governments around the world should be issuing warnings to their nationals who are visiting Indonesia of the dangers of the dog and cat meat trade and the live markets, despite some local tour operators promoting them as 'must see' places and experiences," Dr Katherine Polak, of action group Four Paws, said.
Meanwhile, Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns for Humane Society International in Australia, said: "Indonesia is a country of world-renowned natural beauty, but its international reputation is marred by the ugly brutality of its dog and cat meat trade.
" … It's a genuine concern that innocent travellers could be exposing themselves to dangerous and even deadly diseases. The lack of government action to crack down on this trade is certainly calling into question Indonesia's position as a prime tourist destination."
It comes as locals shared their horror stories of gangs of armed thieves snatching their beloved pets from them, threatening them with revenge if they dare to protest.
Many said they were appalled over the lack of action by law enforcement officials to punish or deter the gangs.
Merry, a resident of Tomohon City described her ordeal: "I saw it happen through the upstairs window. The dog was eating cyanide, while the thief was waiting for the dog. We couldn't go outside. The thief was armed and ready, with rocks, arrows, a machete inside the car.
"While I was opening my door, the thief tried to fire an arrow at me."
Lola Webber, co-founder of Change For Animals Foundation, said the latest findings should be a wake-up call that action is needed.
"With over 200 markets selling dogs and cats for meat in North Sulawesi alone, the scale of the problem is potentially catastrophic for Indonesia's attempts to eliminate rabies, and gravely jeopardises the health and safety of its citizens and animals," Lola said.
'TRICKED INTO EATING DOG MEAT'
Over four months, an undercover investigator for Animals Australia infiltrated the dog meat trade in Bali, posing as a documentary maker interested in local cuisine. To protect his identity, the ABC called him Luke.
Luke discovered that thousands of dogs are being caught and bludgeoned to death and often sold to unwitting tourists who have no idea they are ordering or eating dog.
Behind 66 Beach in the tourist area of Seminyak, a street vendor admitted he was selling dog.
"Dog satay," the vendor replied when asked what he was selling.
But it was a different story for tourists - when a group of Australian tourists ask if it is satay chicken, not dog, the vendor replies "no, not dog". Misled, they unknowingly ate the dog meat.
The investigation found specialty restaurants sold dog meat too.
Doctor Andrew Dawson, director of the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre and head of toxicology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said this poses a health risk.
"Firstly, cyanide is not going to be destroyed by cooking. So there will be cyanide throughout the dog's body," he said.
"The actual risk depends upon how much poison is in the dog meat."
If tourists were to eat it often, it could cause "organ damage and damage to the nerves". Or even death.
"If you are eating, for example, a curry and it was including bits of the animal stomach or the heart, then you would expect really high concentrations of cyanide … which could be fatal," Dr Dawson said.
While eating dog meat is not illegal on the Indonesian island - some Balinese locals believe dog meat is good for their health - the barbaric way in which the dog meat trade operates for human consumption is, according to Animals Australia's campaign director Lyn White.