SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — An investigation by an animal advocacy nonprofit group shed a glaring spotlight on small markets in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose where live animals are sold.

Animal Outlook said its investigation unveiled extreme cruelty and abuse against animals before they are slaughtered and sold inside markets.

“The desire to protect animals against cruelty is inherent in our humanity. Survey after survey finds near-unanimous opposition to animal cruelty. There are laws against it, yet it is allowed to continue under the veil of live markets,” Animal Outlook wrote.

The nonprofit said it visited 18 live markets across the Bay Area and documented several cases of “shocking” animal cruelty violations. Eleven of the markets were found within San Francisco.

Photographic and video footage recorded by AO’s investigators in February and March show market employees piling live fish, turtles, frogs, and chickens into shallow trays, overcrowded tanks, and packed cages to be displayed to customers.

chickens AO
Chickens are stuffed into small cages in one live animal market. (Image courtesy Animal Outlook)

“Fish are bludgeoned before being dismembered. Turtles are decapitated. Frogs and other amphibians and reptiles spend their days in plastic tubs, sometimes piled on top of each other,” AO wrote.

AO executive director Cheryl Leahy said, “We want the public to be aware that this type of animal cruelty is happening, both on massive factory farms … as well as right in our own neighborhoods. We are shining a light on San Francisco to illustrate the national crisis.”

Animal Outlook showed its video footage to local Bay Area residents, and many were stunned to see animal cruelty happening right in their own neighborhoods. “It looks incredibly inhuman and almost medieval. It’s the same thing as if someone was to hit a cat or dog. We are better than that,” one resident said.

Fish, frogs, and turtles have pain receptors and they respond to pain just like mammals, biologist Lynne Sneddon told National Geographic. Sneddon reviewed Animal Outlook’s videos and concluded that the markets’ activities were inhumane.

“Fish are held in the air where they are suffocating. This would be similar to holding a terrestrial mammal under water until it drowned,” she said.

Animal Outlook is calling for stricter enforcement of existing state animal protection laws to hold small neighborhood markets accountable.

An additional to cruelty concerns, the nonprofit pointed out that unsanitary conditions in live animal markets can create public health hazards and lead to global zoonotic disease transmissions.

The suspected origins of COVID-19 were traced back to a live animal market in Wuhan, China, according to multiple studies spearheaded by the World Health Organization.

Researchers traced the earliest human COVID cases to vendors who sold live animals and customers who shopped at the market. The virus circulated between animals before spreading to people. The first animal-to-human transmission likely happened around November 18, 2019, researchers concluded.

The Chinese government alerted the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019 of a “severe pneumonia” outbreak in Wuhan. More than 40 patients who were hospitalized with suspected pneumonia were later confirmed to have been infected with novel coronavirus.