“Do we have any respect for animals?” was the theme of one conversation at a lunch on Friday at the fabulous Circa restaurant here in Melbourne. The question came up as Circa makes a big issue out of sourcing organic produce, finding happily bred, free-ranging animals to eat, and right at our backs was a massive herb wall which the chefs pluck green goodies from.

Interestingly, in Jakarta, a Japanese chef told us that they do not use Japanese wagyu beef because the Japanese, to increase the fat content in the meat, not only massage the cows but also feed them beer, thus making the meat haram, and unable to be eaten by Muslims (Indonesia being a predominantly Muslim state). Instead, they source their hugely expensive wagyu from here in Australia. Hurrah for us!

It got me to thinking about the animal market in Jakarta, a strip in the suburban streets which is billed as a bird market. But when we got there, not only were there bright parrots, finches and all manner of songbirds, but loads of weird animals I’ve never seen before. One guy, obviously a specialist in the weird, pulled out a lemur, a furry little beast with the HUGHEST EYES.

I thought were found only in Madagascar, but apparently this lot is indigenous to Sumatra. Adezah, who was hanging out with us there, used to have one as a pet, and he held it gently, while it clung to his fingers desperately, almost lovingly, its little warm hands shaped like a frog’s. Apparently, lemurs are traded illegally, their Indonesian population under threat.

There were also spookily long-legged rabbits, perky iguanas, a rooster with a black comb and face, an upside-down fruit bat, loads of owls (which the Indonesians call ‘ghost birds’), a tank full of black scorpions and hundreds and hundreds of mice, bred as food for the many snakes on offer. A nice lady modeled an American ball python for me, its thick waist wrapped around her neck, and everyone was quite happy to let me pat or photograph their animals.

The saddest sight at the market, though, was a couple of tiny monkeys, just two months old, sitting in an empty cage by the busy roadside, staring uncomprehendingly at the traffic with wild green eyes.
I photographed them to show you.

I’ve seen monkeys in street pet shops before (in Cairo, remember?) but these were so young, so tiny, and so bewildered, they came to mind at my posh lunch yesterday. In this instance, no, we have no respect for animals.