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Virus Fears Force Animal Sellers Online For Muslim Festival

Health workers spray disinfectant on sacrificial animals amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in Hyderabad.
Health workers spray disinfectant on sacrificial animals amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in Hyderabad.

Prancing in front of a camera with its blond mane blowing in the wind, "007" is one of thousands of goats being sold online as Muslims prepare for a key religious festival shaken this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Millions of goats, sheep, and cattle are slaughtered annually at Eid al-Adha -- the festival of sacrifice -- one of two major holy days observed by Muslims across the world, including some 600 million in South Asia.

The pandemic has, however, badly hit India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which have shut or heavily restricted major markets, while fears about catching the virus are keeping customers away ahead of the main festival on August 1.

"We were traumatised by the loss of two of my uncles to COVID-19 and didn't want to sacrifice an animal," Saddid Hossain told AFP in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. "But we have to stay within our religious tradition, so we'd rather buy from an online cow seller."

Faced with deserted markets, livestock breeders and traders have turned to websites, apps, and social media to showcase their animals.

Fahad Zariwala promotes goats such as "007" from farms across India on his YouTube channel, which has more than 800,000 followers.

"I shoot a slow-motion video with beautiful music, and I make them (goats) popular," said Zariwala, who is based in Mumbai. "They have a personality and are ... mostly named after Bollywood movies and trending characters in Bollywood."

Zariwala has seen a huge increase in viewers from Australia, Britain, the United States, and the Middle East, which all have large South Asian diasporas.

One farm he promotes runs video beauty contests to tempt potential customers who might buy the goats for their families in India, where there are 200 million Muslims.

PashuBajaar, which sells thousands of goats for Indian farmers, said online sales had jumped from a few dozen last year to more than 2,500 in the past three months. "We've even received online orders for thousands for next year," chief executive Sanjeev Kumar told AFP.

The animals are delivered to buyers in open-air vehicles, which can carry 10 to 15 of them.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, home to 215 million people, dozens of apps and websites have sprung up. Buyers can select an animal and have it delivered to their doorstep, slaughtered, or donated to a charity.

Qurbani App chief executive Muhammad Ali Chaudhry said "orders have gone through the roof."

Islamabad goat farmer Muhammad Naeem, meanwhile, said his digital transactions had jumped from 20 percent of sales to almost half.

But the rise in online sales has been accompanied by plunging prices. Mumbai seller Walid Dawood Jat, who sold six goats online during India's lockdown, said they fetched just half their usual prices. "We used to sell goats at 500-600 rupees ($6.70-$8.00) per kilo," he said, adding the price had fallen by half. "Buyers haggle with us. They say they don't have money, their income is down."

At Dhaka's biggest cattle market, livestock sales are down from 400,000 a week in previous years to 30,000.

"Last year many people came. We were very busy," said trader Kalu Bepari -- who traveled 245 kilometers (150 miles) to the bazaar with 13 bulls but has only sold two "for a very cheap price."

"This year there is barely anyone due to coronavirus fears. Nobody even asks the price," he said.