Caged in groups, hundreds of love birds, rabbits, cats, and dogs are stuck in the 100-sqft shops of the Dhaka University Market at Katabon – the largest pet-trading hub in Dhaka.
When the shops remain closed, an 8-sqft vent attached to the shutter allows for air supply. During a long-term shutdown though, this is insufficient for the animals because the shops lack exhaust ventilation systems.
Before the nationwide shutdown came into effect on March 26, the caged animals could breathe fresh air for at least 12 hours a day. However, now the shops are open for barely four hours a day, leaving the animals and birds longing for a breath of fresh air.
"As law enforcement agencies are restricting the full-fledged operation of market places, pet traders are struggling to keep their animals alive," said Bazlur Rahman Shikder, general secretary of the Dhaka University Market Aqua and Pet Association.
He said the mortality rate at the pet market is still "insignificant," but it will increase if the animals do not get a "livable environment."
To comply with the government-imposed shutdown, the association issued a letter on March 23, requesting shop owners halt their business operations until March 31.
However, the letter also reads that owners may open the shops for five hours – from 11:00am to 2:00pm and 7:00pm to 9:00pm – to provide food for the animals and allow for a fresh air supply.
However, law enforcement is not allowing Katabon-based pet shops to stay open for the five hours in the morning.
Earlier, the association requested that the police allow the pet shops to stay open for the five hours. But, the police told the traders to keep the shutters only half-open for a mere 30 minutes, twice a day.
Among the 350 shops of the Dhaka University Market, 60 sell live animals and birds worth over Tk1 crore, according to traders.
Muhammad Sumon, owner of pet shop New Birds Paradise, has to walk all the way from Lalbagh to Katabon four times a day just to keep the animals alive. Sometimes, he has to dodge law enforcement personnel so that he can feed home-cooked food to them.
Sumon currently has animals worth more than Tk1.5 lakh at his shop. Among the pets are a pair of six-month old Pomeranian dogs – each worth Tk30,000 – and a Persian cat worth Tk15,000.
"We consider the pets our children. They are our business capital too. So we always try to keep them alive. However, we are struggling to do so amid this nation-wide shutdown," Sumon said.
According to Dr Mahmudar Rahman, chief veterinary surgeon of Obhoyaronno – Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation, limited access to fresh air will push the caged animals to death.
Hence, the pet traders' association has requested the authorities concerned, particularly the Department of Livestock Services (DLS) and the Forest Department, to take necessary steps in this regard.
Dhaka District Livestock Officer Md Emdadul Haque Talukder told The Business Standard that they had discussed the issue with administrative and law enforcement officials so that pet traders could have more access to look after the animals.
"Additionally, a Thana Livestock Officer has been assigned to monitor the Katabon market. In case of emergencies, we will provide necessary support."
Md Abul Hasan, officer-in-charge of the Shahbag police station, said pet traders can have the necessary time to look after their animals.
"Additionally, we have requested them to move the animals to a more convenient location if possible."