Note: Today’s post contains images you might find upsetting, especially if you are an animal lover like me.
There is also a YouTube video to go alongside this article, which you’ll find at the bottom of this page.
I’ve always had pets, ever since I was little. I have fond memories of pet turtles, tortoises, my father’s pigeons, dogs, cats etc. From this childhood, I obviously grew up with a respect for animals, and do still enjoy keeping pets. The thing is, if I’m going to keep a pet, I’ll make sure it comes from a respectable source such as a private breeder, is given a natural as possible environment, and I’d only keep an animal if I had enough space for it, with the understanding that it isn’t a temporary guest in my home, but is there for the duration of its life. Before you ask me how the weather is up here on my pedestal, let’s check out this market and you can make up your own mind.
With my interest in animals, I often find myself drawn towards Huadiwan pet market in Guangzhou. I’ve visited a few times over the course of the last seven years, and though it has been cleaned up to some extent (gone are the majority of the illegally wild-caught turtles, for example) it still remains quite a depressing place. It is a sprawling expanse of anything and everything pet-related – food, cages, aquariums, reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, you name it. You can buy anything from African hedgehogs to sharks and alligators. As the market expands, trade is increasingly competitive and brisk, and as such, the animals are treated as stock, stored in containers and quickly boxed up and sent on their way. Animals also seem to be bought on a whim, as you’ll see enclosures being purchased at the same time as their inhabitants (something which is frowned upon by the majority of pet shops nowadays).
When you arrive at Huadiwan metro station, head out of Exit D and go through the car park. You’ll be greeted by a large mall-like building full of red wood furniture and decorations. Keep walking past these to reach the first area of the pet market – the aquatic section.
If you’re looking for an aquarium, this is definitely the place to come. Tanks range in size from small desktop systems to the hotel-lobby grandiose saltwater setups. There’s an impressive amount of example tanks, from the intricately aquascaped, CO2-injected planted tanks to the tropical reefs, complete with live coral and clown fish making their homes within the anemones. Some of these setups are phenomenal, and wouldn’t be out of place in a zoo or public aquarium.
A walk through this area will lead you to the ornamental fish. There is a vast range of fish available here, from goldfish to manta-rays. Within these alleyways of wall-to-wall tanks, you will see various specialists, selling incredibly expensive fish such as arowana, revered for their dragon-like appearance.
This area was absolutely rammed today, as we’re still on holiday. Many of the sellers here have the most popular community tank fish such as neon tetras, guppies and platys pre-bagged and ready to go:
There are various alleys to explore, each catering to a different enthusiast, such as outdoor koi pond owners, fancy goldfish breeders (Ranchu, fantail, etc), nano-tank keepers (cherry shrimp and smaller plecos).
When buying their fish, people are often given a net and a plastic tub, so they can catch their own.
PUPPIES AND KITTENS
Leaving the fish area, the road leads towards the puppies and kittens. Its one thing to see fish packed into little tanks, but to see puppies and kittens struggling with the heat and humidity in cramped conditions is really sad. The animals aren’t exactly in the best condition, either. Many seem to be suffering from mange or malnutrition. Health seems to be advertised by waving a bowl of food around above the puppies, as they clamber over one another in hopes of a morsel to eat. Sadly, I suspect their interest in the food is due to being starved, rather than an accurate indication of their health.
One of the saddest sights has to be toward the back of these puppy shops, away from the crowds. This is where you find the dogs that either never got bought, or are the parents of the pups on display. I’m not sure if they’re here as living advertisements of what the pups will grow into, but nobody shows them any interest, and I doubt they ever get taken home. They spend their time either enclosed in small cages, or chained to the top, preventing them from moving around.
Pretty grim to see a beautiful adult golden retriever desperately chewing at the bars of its cage in the hopes of escape.
As you continue on the main road, you will reach the turtle section. In previous years, you’d see a huge amount of likely wild-caught tortoises imported from Africa, or caiman alligators. I remember seeing signs warning of the sales of illegal reptiles a few years back, and this has clearly taken effect in the market – I didn’t see a single tortoise for sale, in fact. What I did see was rows upon rows of plastic tubs, full to the brim with red-eared sliders, musk turtles, map turtles, and baby alligator snappers, swimming around in their own filth:
BIRDS AND SMALL MAMMALS
The final section of the pet market is the birds/small mammals area. In this section, you’ll find everything from albino peacocks, fancy pigeons, parrots and finches to black squirrels, chipmunks and hamsters.
The vast majority of the budgies are kept in pallets, stacked up outside the shops.
Walk down some of the alleys and you’ll discover black squirrels and chipmunks:
I personally can’t see the appeal of keeping squirrels as pets – seems like a nightmare waiting to happen if you ask me. Imagine them getting loose in your house! Good luck to whoever purchases these on the assumption they’ll be like some kind of cuddly tree-rabbit.
One small shop near the back caught my eye as I walked past. I remember my dad keeping pigeons back in the day, and he had some known as ‘tumblers’ as I recall, but I’ve never seen pigeons like these. They border on absurd, and look like some kind of bizarre chicken-pigeon hybrid, with curly feathers, fluffy feet, and exaggerated bodies:
It was a million degrees outside today, and after a few hours, I was pretty much as pooped as this fella:
Add: Exits C & D, Huadiwan metro station (花地湾地铁站), Fangcun, Guangzhou.
Want to see more? Do check out my video of today’s walk around the pet market: