Filming Inside America’s Live Animal Slaughter Markets

Documenting the fight to ban the 80+ “wet markets” in New York City during a global pandemic

CaveLight Films
3 min readOct 29, 2020

New York City — April 2020

It’s not just China, it’s everywhere. There are over 80 live animal slaughter markets in NYC alone, filled with unimaginable abuse and disease.

As the nation and the city tried to adjust to lockdown living, we decided the stakes were too high not to investigate further.

We connected with a network of animal activists who have been secretly documenting the conditions at these markets for years. Their mission is simple–shut these places down immediately.

So we grabbed our film gear, masks and proceeded with caution…

Image captured by an activist at one of the 80+ live animal markets in NYC

On a hot Spring morning, we arrived at our first location in Harlem, NY to see the conditions with our own eyes and film what we could before getting kicked out. We then documented more markets in Brooklyn and Queens.

The markets were packed with people waiting to purchase animals that were crammed into cages, defecating on each other, featherless and visibly sick or dying–some birds were even cannibalizing each other.

Blood, urine, feces and body parts were everywhere including along the city sidewalks as people walked through it on their way to the subway.

Customers were unfazed by any of this as they proceeded to pick out their animal of choice. The workers promptly pulled birds from the cages, weighed them and brought their bodies to the kill room in the back. Minutes later a plastic bag of the cut up animal was handed to the shopper for purchase.

We can’t be pointing the finger at China when we have the same or worse conditions here. It doesn’t matter whether they’re wild animals or domestic animals. –Edita Birnkrant, Executive Director of NYCLASS

NYC Live Market — April 2020

Not If, But When

Baffled by what we witnessed, our film team decided to interview experts about the potential dangers of these markets.

Live animal markets are a breeding ground for disease. And indeed the next pandemic, may come from live bird markets in New York City, rather than wet markets somewhere in South Asia. — Dr. Michael Greger, Author

The research is clear. Zoonotic diseases are all too common and can be extremely dangerous. Covid is just the most recent example. According to the CDC more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

To sum up our interview with Dr. Michael Greger, when we asked about the threat of another global pandemic he simply replied, “It’s not if, but when.”

Seeing is Believing

The fight to ban these live markets is fraught with a myriad of issues. This article only scrapes the surface of what we address in our film: Rampant animal abuse, public safety, worker rights, cultural sensitivities, environmental racism and political infighting to name a few.

But to truly get an understanding of what’s at stake, I urge all of you to watch the film, which has been viewed more than 8 million times.

Watch the film on Facebook here


Watch the film on YouTube here

Jordan Ehrlich, Director



CaveLight Films

A documentary film production company founded by Jordan Ehrlich