A Denpasar Emporium of Dubious Decorum

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

It is eminently advisable to be on one’s guard should you opt to visit the Satria animal market in Denpasar to buy a creature, or a plant. I bought a shrub there last year that turned out to have had its roots cut off and shrivelled up to a crisp after a few days’ dehydration.

The sellers’ mentality is: tell them (assumed naïve patrons) anything they want to hear – adding a few whipped-up tales to suit – and when the animal or plant dies, they’ll come back for a replacement. Sure, isn’t there one born every minute!

So apparently their clients, including yours truly, are a bit thick, slightly challenged between the ears, and don’t deem anything odd or out of the ordinary concerning live purchases that seemingly experience a sudden, untimely demise. Who’s to say?

When my football-size rootless shrub withered, and tumbled out of its pot despondently, my houseman chortled and advised: “That’s the way it is there.” Market for morons – what a place.

This bizarre bazaar is brimming with curious folk on the lookout for a wee bunny, an impish monkey, warbling birds or a few fish for the bowl at home. Perhaps it’s a case of pot luck. (The fish, I’ve been told, are poisoned to the edge of existence and are primed to croak.)

A purchase I made at Satria some years back of a baby owl came with guidance on how to feed it. Plenty of fresh fruit, I was told, of a bird that is a carnivore. It’s the centuries-old refrain of a souk merchant: say anything to make the sale.

These fauna chandlers do not limit themselves to the law, for in certain areas of the marketplace, assortments of exotic and protected species are up for sale.

Tiny baby iguanas no longer than your forefinger look a treat –like wind-up toys painted in fluorescent green. But what a pricetag: Rp1.5 million (US$150) apiece. Apparently these striking lizards are not suitable as house pets because they carry germs that include salmonella. Who knew? Clearly not me, when I kept an adult of the species in Jakarta, but I had it only for a day: upon my return from a trip to Bali, the maid said a dog had eaten it, and she had buried the unfortunate prehistoric-looking creature. However, she had never been able to pinpoint the exact location of the burial site in the garden. We live and learn, apparently.

Found at the rear of this strange emporium of the natural world in the heart of Bali’s bustling capital is a line of men seated cross-legged on the ground with wares and concoctions spread out before them, with a male-only crowd of inquiring onlookers peering down. Here there are shamans and seers and peddlers of potions that promise to invigorate one’s boudoir life by enlarging the male sex organ. There is much interest in this among the collective attendees. It really is quite the place.

I would like to think that it’s all quite harmless, if a bit mischievous – especially compared to one of my Jakarta haunts, Pramuka Market. Ostensibly a bird market (and it has many and of a wide variety), it is possibly one of the few places outside a zoo that you will come into contact with rare and endangered animals – sun bears, orangutans, tiger cubs.

In a report, the International Primate Protection League, an American conservation organisation, called Pramuka “The Animal Market from Hell” and said: “It is very frustrating that the government is well aware of the state of affairs in the Pramuka market, but does nothing about it.” Somewhere near the bottom of a very long list of national priorities, I would say.

On one of my perambulations around the messy, expansive place, I made inquiries about the possible purchase of a baby orangutan, an illegal transaction for sure and not one I would follow through with – purely material for an article on the market at the time. I was led to a ramshackle hut that served as a family house; it was at the edge of Pramuka. Shortly thereafter there appeared from within a man with a young and very anxious baby orangutan wrapped around his chest. It was pitiful, the scene, the sadness of this animal, and for Rp15 million the ape could have been mine.

The market for orangutans, tigers and the like is mainly local. Moneyed Jakarta people use them as a bold showcase of their wealth. I have encountered packs of baby orangutans in the jungle, in Kalimantan – and have been assailed by them. They’re rough out there, but joyful creatures nonetheless, and do not thrive when kept out of the trees and as pets.

And so back in Bali, in Denpasar, the goings-on at Satria are eminently more innocent. However, the traders may be having a laugh now; but who will have the last one?


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