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, as animal sellers go fully online.
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.
Animal sellers go online for sales on Eid
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 Saturday.
“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.
Animal beauty contests: sellers come up with innovative ways to market
“They have a personality and are… mostly named after Bollywood movies and trending characters in Bollywood,” he told AFP.
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.
Pakistan leads the way with dedicated mobile apps
In Muslim-majority Pakistan, home to 215 million people, dozens of apps and websites have sprung up.
— Shifa Foundation (@ShifaFoundation) July 28, 2020
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.”
In 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 travelled 245 kilometres (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.”
Animal sellers report surge in online selling in Pakistan
Markets providing online buying and sacrificial services have existed in Pakistan for years. However, the pandemic situation coupled with new restrictions have increased their popularity by manifold this year.
Unlike in the past, authorities have banned the setting up of small makeshift cattle markets within cities, and slaughter of animals in open spaces, fearing a spike in a relatively dwindling virus infection ratio, is also prohibited.
Taking advantage, scores of meat brands, and cattle farm owners have launched websites offering citizens “manageable,” and “convenient” ways of sacrificing cattle. So much so, several companies are providing online sacrifice services to overseas Pakistanis, mainly in the US and Europe, as well.
“We have booked orders five times higher than in 2019,” Arshad Hussain, an official of a popular countrywide online sacrificial service provider, told Anadolu Agency.
“A majority of them will simply collect the meat on the first, second, and third day of Eid as per their booking. Few have bought animals that we will deliver on their doorstep before Eid,” he said.
Most of the orders, he added, had been received from big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.
With the virus being highly contagious, people have been advised to avoid large crowds.
Even though many are visiting the markets to buy animals after inspecting them physically, things have changed.
Aamir Hussain, a Karachi-based system developer, would usually bring goats home a week before Eid as his children enjoy taking care of them. But not this time.
“I have booked qurbani [sacrifice] through an online website this year as I am not comfortable with the idea of exposing myself by visiting the cattle market, and slaughtering the cattle outside my house,” he said. “I am not going to do that this time. It will be too risky for myself, and my family.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk