Appalling Conditions in Vietnamese Wet Markets

Investigation uncovers appalling and illegal conditions in Vietnamese wet markets selling dogs, cats and critically endangered wildlife.

In August 2022, photojournalists Aaron Gekoski and Napat Wesshasartar worked with We Animals Media and Asia for Animals (AfA) Coalition in Vietnam to document the appalling conditions animals face in wet markets.

[Content Warning: contains graphic images and footage]

Dogs destined to be killed for their meat looking out from within a small and crowded cage at a slaughterhouse on Huu Hung Street. Behind this cage lie the charred bodies of two recently killed dogs, Hanoi, Vietnam. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Dogs destined to be killed for their meat looking out from within a small and crowded cage at a slaughterhouse on Huu Hung Street. Behind this cage lie the charred bodies of two recently killed dogs, Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the onset of COVID-19, Asian wet markets have sparked increased global debate and controversy. The United Nations has called for countries to suspend the sale of live wild animals at wet markets because of their risk of spreading emerging deadly diseases. Gekoski’s and Wesshasartar’s visuals highlight the reality of these places, providing a raw glimpse into Vietnam’s dog meat trade and wet markets, and expose intense animal suffering and illegal sales.

“From poor wildlife tourism venues and the bear bile industry, to the illegal wildlife and dog meat trades, Vietnam faces a host of animal welfare problems,” says Gekoski. “Our investigation of these industries reveals the suffering of countless animals. We witnessed dogs in cages as they awaited their turn to be butchered, and then sold on street stalls. Plus, appalling conditions at animal markets, where many endangered species are slaughtered. These markets are not only barbaric, but are hotbeds for disease and need to be investigated by the authorities.”

“I normally set aside my emotions and focus on the assignment,” says Wesshasartar. “However, when I have to go through all of the footage that I shot, it’s heartbreaking. Seeing our companion animals being killed, hearing the sound of the injured dogs, and smelling their blood – it’s horrible and unacceptable. Historically, dog and cat consumption is normal, especially during famine or world war. But Vietnam has been far from that era for years.”

Read on to hear details of the sobering discoveries made in Vietnam’s wet markets.

The Cat and Dog Meat Industry

The Vietnamese government declared in 2018 that they will ban dog meat consumption by 2021. However, this is far from the truth. Gekoski documented caged dogs being killed and sold for meat to paying customers in Hanoi’s public markets this year. The consumption of dog meat is more popular in the northern parts of Vietnam than the south. Even now, it is considered a delicacy by some and yet still a staple by others. Despite this, many Vietnamese are fighting to end the practice.

The dogs suffer appalling conditions. Many of them are imported from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. The creatures are crammed together in groups of about 10, in cages no larger than two square metres. Vendors typically kill them by striking their heads with plywood, then stabbing them in their hearts. Afterwards they put their bodies into a fur-removing machine before burning their skins. Most of the killing process is conducted in clear view of other living dogs, who will soon be next.

The cat meat trade is a similar situation. The Vietnamese government banned cat consumption in 1998, but this directive was cancelled in 2020. Vendors openly sell dead cats alongside cages of live cats, which are routinely slaughtered for their meat, known locally as “tiểu hổ”. The trade of cat and dog meat is not only brutal but is carried out on a large scale. On average ten to twenty dogs and cats are killed per day at a single given market.

“Bird’s Hell”

Vendors commonly sell live animals with little care for their welfare. Thanh Hoa Bird Market in Southern Long An province is one of Vietnam’s largest wild bird markets. The market is sometimes reported as “birds’ hell” because pigeons, geese, ducks and chickens, eagles, and wildlife are kept in tightly packed cages before being slaughtered.

Like the cats and dogs, these animals face gruesome conditions. When consumers buy birds, vendors often slaughter them on demand by smashing their heads on a hard surface, such as a counter or floor. Pigeons have their heads chopped off while they are still alive before they are boiled to more easily remove feathers.

Other animals are similarly kept and killed, for example Toads are tied with red plastic string to prevent them from moving. Gekoski even documented vendors smashing rats onto pavement to kill them and cutting up their bodies with scissors. Afterwards the vendors boil the animals and remove the feathers or fur, finally burning the skin for food preservation.

According to wildlife protection organizations, vendors kill and sell around 1,000 wild birds and animals every day.

I’ve seen dogs clubbed over the head and stabbed in the throat, rats smashed against the pavement and then cut up with scissors, turtles pulled apart alive, and some of the most inhumane treatment of animals imaginable… No matter how you try and rationalise it, the pain we inflict upon other living beings cannot be justified. No food or medicine is worth the immense suffering that precedes it.

– Aaron Gekoski


Illegal Critically Endangered Wildlife Market

Endangered tortoises confined inside cages at the Thanh Hoa Bird Market, an exotic animal market. Despite the sale of these tortoises being illegal, they are available for sale at this market. Thanh Hoa, Vietnam. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Endangered tortoises confined inside cages at the Thanh Hoa Bird Market.

Some of the animals sold in Vietnamese wet markets are critically endangered and protected by law in Vietnam. The illegal trade in these creatures has a huge impact on wild populations as most of them are caught from the wild. Gekoski saw elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elongata), a critically endangered species according to the IUCN Red List, being sold openly by shop owners.

Statements from authorities suggest that the illegal trade of endangered wildlife will cease. However, the investigators witnessed no evidence of the Vietnamese government taking any such action, despite such statements. On the contrary, vendors illegally sold animals openly in public spaces.

Murder Hornets

Gekoski and Wesshasartar went to great lengths to document multiple markets in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. At one point, they were hospitalized from a murder hornet attack after crossing a swamp to reach cages:

“On walking to the cages, via a swamp, our fixer turned around and ran towards us, screaming and pulling at his hair. He was pursued by a swarm of murder hornets – a notoriously aggressive animal with one of the most painful stings known to humans. Napat and I turned and ran, as the hornets swooped on us, stinging us on our heads, backs, arms and legs. The pain was unreal – like having boiling water poured all over your body. The whole experience had shaken us up, but the pain we experienced was negligible compared to what Vietnam’s animals go through.” ― Aaron Gekoski

Gekoski and Wesshasartar hope that their images will spread awareness and highlight the reality of wet markets in Vietnam. If you’re interested in publishing this content, and focusing more attention on the issue, please contact timaldred@naturepl.com