A fire at the controversial Bangkok wildlife market early Tuesday has caused global sorrow. Thousands of species, including dogs, cats, birds and monkeys, perished. City officials and police are investigating as traders mourn their losses and seek support.

A fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning at a controversial Bangkok wildlife market has reverberated throughout the world. Reports suggest thousands of species, including dogs, cats, birds, monkeys and snakes, all died in a blaze which consumed the premises their enclosures were housed in. City officials and police responded to the emergency, not least by assisting the vendors at the market, a key tourist attraction. The anxiety and grief over the loss of life was palpable.

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Governor Chadchart Sittipunt and Ms Patkorn Sinsuk, Director of Chatuchak District, at the site on Tuesday. (Inset) The blaze burns violently for hours after 4:10 AM on Tuesday. (Inset bottom) A firefighter brought out a dazed chicken, a sole survivor, at a poignant moment. (Source: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration)

A visibly upset Bangkok governor on Tuesday told reporters that he preferred not to see the dead animals killed in a tragic fire early in the morning inside the city’s notorious Chatuchak pet market.

At length, the fire broke out after 4:10 AM on Tuesday. According to local business people, it is believed the conflagration started in a popular shop run by one of the traders. 

Shop which left fans running overnight for animals at the outlet reported as a possible source of the blaze. Forensic officers are investigating

Previously, he had gotten into the habit of leaving fans running throughout the night to provide comfort to his pets, which were for sale at the shop. 

A Metropolitan Police Bureau investigation into the fire has been opened. Police forensics officers began examining the scene on Tuesday, even while the public and vendors were held back over safety concerns. Nothing has been confirmed at this stage.

In all, it is sadly thought that over 1,000 animals and pets died in the inferno, which took firefighters an hour to put out.

‘It’s heartbreaking. I never thought that we would see not only people as victims but this time it’s the adorable pets. I don’t even want to look at the dogs that died because they were trapped in cages and couldn’t escape,’ popular Governor Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters.

Chatuchak’s extensive market including its controversial wildlife market is a big tourist attraction for Bangkok bringing in 200,000 visitors every week

However, his administration was quick to swing into action in support of the hundreds of traders who overnight had lost everything. 

The pet market, although quite notorious, is only four of 27 sections at the facility. The Chatuchak market is a famed tourist attraction in Thailand. It draws an estimated 200,000 visitors weekly.

The market is also famed for selling clothes, handicrafts and a variety of eclectic products which appeal both to foreign tourists and locals alike.

The pet market itself had 118 outlets. It is located on Kamphaeng Phet 3 Road behind the JJ Mall Shopping Centre.

On Tuesday, as anxious owners were not allowed near the charred remains of the centre because of fears of falling debris, the Chatuchak District Office of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration announced a response.

Previously, there was a fire in 2019 which extensively damaged the centre. However, this early morning  blaze appears to have been far more serious 

Initially, all outlets were to be paid ฿11,400. In addition, the Forensic Division of the Royal Thai Police were confident of establishing the exact nature of the cause. In short, this is believed initially to have been an electrical short circuit. 

However, nothing is being ruled out.

The Chatuchak market was the scene of another fire in 2019 which caused extensive damage. However, this fire has seen the destruction of the market, including its vast array of animal and wildlife outlets. The 2019 incident occurred at nighttime but saw a faster response and was less extensive.

Undoubtedly, the market has been a target of criticism in the past.

Animal rights activists, for instance,  criticise the conditions that animals and pets are kept in. In addition, there are fears that protected wildlife is being trafficked through the market for profit.

Bangkok governor’s priority on Tuesday was to begin the process of regrouping for the vendors and traders whose livelihoods were wiped out by the disaster

On Tuesday, Governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s main goal was to move towards reopening the market. 

His officials made contact with the State Railway of Thailand. Indeed, this is the owner of the property. The Bangkok leader wanted to arrange alternative space for vendors to operate from.

In addition, he was concerned about finding power sources for some operators with fish stock still alive who promptly needed access to air pumps and life-supporting treatments.

Across Bangkok, Thailand, and indeed the world, the focus was on the tragic loss of innocent animals. All of whom were caged.

Eyewitness who was in the wildlife centre when the fire broke out gave a terrifying glimpse into what happened as she recalled the fear of the creatures

An eyewitness to the fire gave some indication of the horror the animals and pets at the centre must have experienced.

Thirty-six-year-old Meecha Lae Chae was in the wildlife market when the fire broke out.

In brief, she was sleeping in the mezzanine of one of the shops. She was employed to keep watch over the expensive birds in her employer’s shop. One particular species retailed for ฿30,000 she explained to reporters on Tuesday.

Sometime between 4:00 AM and 4:30 AM, she was awoken by the sounds of animals and wildlife noises in the centre. They were intensely excited and animated as the fire engulfed the premises

Following that, she detected a burning smell and was overpowered by smoke. Ms Meecha managed to escape by jumping from a window to the outside.

Huge loss of life and potential income suffered in the one-hour inferno. Many of the wildlife were worth tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of baht

In the meantime, sellers at the wildlife market have told the media that many expensive animals and wildlife had perished. Indeed, some were quoted as being worth hundreds of thousands of baht.

This was confirmed by 54-year-old Sakda Banphachulchinda of TK Farm shop whose premises fortunately were across the road from the Chatuchak centre. He told reporters that his stock of bird wildlife was worth tens of millions of baht.

The Chatuchak pet zone or wildlife market has long been an importer and trading centre for rare birds and wildlife.

Poignant moment when a dazed chicken emerged as a survivor still in a cage. However, anxiety and indeed grief at the loss of life was felt worldwide

Afterwards, on Tuesday, there was a poignant moment when a firefighter emerged with a cage. Inside it was a dazed chicken that had survived the blaze. All others nearby had perished.

One vendor poured a bottle of water over the creature to revive it.

Across the online world, there were outpourings of grief and some anger over the loss of life in the cages at the Chatuchak centre. 

At the same time, there were generous offers to help and assist any surviving species. Among these was a report that some kittens had also been rescued.

As well as having a previous fire in 2019, the Chatuchak wildlife market has had an even more controversial reputation.

Danish scientist, part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) delegation in 2022, linked the Chatuchak wildlife market with the origins of the Covid virus

In 2022, a Danish researcher and scientist, Dr Thea Kølsen Fischer, caused alarm in Thailand.

At length, she identified the market as a possible source of the deadly coronavirus.

She linked it to its later emergence at the Wuhan laboratory in China. The claims sparked an outcry in Thailand but were widely reported in Danish media.

Dr Fischer was among a high-profile World Health Organisation (WHO) delegation that had visited China earlier.

At that time, her delegation failed to obtain information from Chinese authorities.

After that, the Danish scientist postulated that horseshoe bats were the source of the virus. She then identified the Chatuchak wildlife market as a prime example of where such creatures may be found.

This type of bat has a 91.5% DNA match with the virus.

Official rejects reported claims by a Danish expert that COVID-19 may have originated in Thailand
Concerns raised about EV vehicles and batteries stored in Bangkok after intense Chatuchak fire

However, Thai officials politely dismissed the claim. Firstly, the same theory could have been applied anywhere in Southeast Asia. Secondly, there was no factual link between the Bangkok market and the virus outbreak.

In 2022, Dr Chawetsan Namwat of the Department of Disease Control addressed the claim: ‘The Department of Disease Control has looked into the issue, and we can say that it’s not true,’ Dr Chawetsan told reporters. ‘There is no academic proof that it came from any animal at the market.’

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Further reading:

Official rejects reported claims by a Danish expert that Covid-19 may have originated in Thailand

Concerns raised about EV vehicles and batteries stored in Bangkok after intense Chatuchak fire

Top Thai official says vaccine passports are legally a matter for the WHO under international law