DHAKA (AFP) - Hundreds of animals have died in Dhaka's biggest pet market after stores were forced to close during Bangladesh's coronavirus lockdown, leaving owners desperate and rights activists angry.
"We need to keep the doors open so the animals don't suffocate," shop owner Mohammad Polash explained to AFP.
About 400 birds and dozens of dogs, cats, rabbits, rats and guinea pigs have died since the market shut on July 1, according to Rahman Shikder, a spokesman for the Katabon market's store owners association. "At least 20 per cent of our animals have died," he added.
After the deaths made national headlines, the government on Wednesday (July 14) ordered police to let the pet market's 75 tiny shops open their doors for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
Animal rights activists have accused the shops of keeping pets in hazardous conditions.
"Places like Katabon should not exist in the first place," the head of animal rights group Obhoyaronno, Rubaiya Ahmad, told AFP. "The animals there were already kept in extremely inhumane conditions and it's no surprise they met such horrible deaths," she added. "Wherever animals are kept in confinement, they will always be the first to pay the heaviest price in such unusual circumstances."
Police were patrolling Katabon when AFP visited on Wednesday. Some officers gave shopkeepers a warning for opening outside of the permitted times.
"Police would fine us if we open our shutters," owner Bappi Khan said.
Despite an official death toll now above 17,000 - but widely believed to be at least five times higher - Bangladesh has allowed some lockdown limits to be lifted for Eid al-Adha, the country's second-biggest religious festival.