Indonesians love their birds. Their cats and dogs…not so much. One visit to the Sunday animal market in Yogyakarta – the cultural capital of Java – proved to me this much.
The main plaza of the market is lined with prized show birds in finely carved wooden cages. The air is filled with their song, as elaborate and unfamiliar as the exotic tropical rainforests from which they’ve been plucked. Their proud owners mill about admiring one another’s birds, exchanging advice and smoking clove cigarettes.
As I made my way deeper into the market I found hundreds of cages full of more birds. Everything from baby chickens dyed hot pink to the orange-headed thrush, which intensely sings complex songs for up to an hour at a time in an effort to out-do its male competitors. In fact, this bird is the key competitor in the annual “Perlombang Burung,” a massive birdsong competition that draws national audiences in Indonesia (Java alone has over 50,000 song bird enthusiasts).
Towards the back end of the market, the well-kept birds gave way to steel cages filled with starving cats and dogs, sickly fruit bats and pacing civets (the animal responsible for 10 dollar a cup coffee luwak).
The simple truth is that in Indonesia dogs are mostly reviled as unclean and dangerous or considered food, while cats are better suited to the street than a family’s home. This means they are not often kept as pets, and like in puppy mills in the west, are treated as a disposable commodity by sellers rather than an animal that needs care.
To me it felt a bit like visiting a prison camp where half the inmates where on death row. This was in stark contrast to the part of the market where the healthy, pampered birds were kept, singing their hearty and happy songs. My advice to you, go to the animal market for the birds, its well worth it, but avoid the back half with the furry mammals. If you’ve ever had a cat or a dog for a pet, it will break your heart.