Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Letter: Animal Casualties of Unregulated Pet Trade

This is my latest letter to the Editor, in response to a news report that a flash flood left ‘mongooses’ in an exotic pet store in Brickfields dead. There are 3 points that I need to highlight here:

1. There is a good chance that the said pet store does not have the requisite licence from the Wildlife Department to sell exotic pets.
2. There is a good chance, given the quality of journalism in Malaysia, that the mongooses are not mongooses at all, but ferrets or any other similarly long-bodied small mammals commonly sold as pets.
3. The plural of ‘mongoose’ is ‘mongooses’. There are no such things as ‘mongeese’.


I am sure many animal lovers share my sorrow over the unnecessary deaths of the mongooses that had drowned in the rising waters following the flood in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur (NST, 25th March 2008)

Animal welfare organizations such as SPCA and PAWS have frequently admonished the practice of retail pet sale. The level of welfare standards in the pet industry is appalling. Most pet shops are staffed by unskilled workers who do not have the requisite level of knowledge to work with animals.

In the event of a fire, flood, or any other danger, the animals almost always have no means of saving themselves and thus perish. Even more common is the death of animals through illness, neglect, poor diet and other problems brought on by the stress of being transported and then housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Of greater concern still is the sale of exotic animals and wildlife. It is highly doubted that the sale of mongoose is legal in Malaysia. Fragile ecosystems are disrupted when humans invade the natural environment to collect animals for the pet trade. Capturing wild animals can threaten the species’ existence, as is the case with endangered tarantula varieties.

In addition, most people who buy exotic pets from retail outlets do not fully understand the care, commitment or costs involved. Once the novelty of having a new pet wears off, many exotic pets are left to fend for themselves or are foisted off on our overcrowded animal shelters and zoos. Abandoned exotic animals may not survive in an inhospitable new environment and may die seeking food and shelter, or alternatively, they might thrive and become an environmental threat, as in the case of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, pet snakes and pet crocodiles.

It is insufficient for the authorities and relevant bodies to merely create non-binding guidelines on the sale or care of exotic animals, or to expect environmental organizations and animal protection groups to undertake the mammoth task of educating the public on animal care and advising society to boycott the wildlife trade.

The Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) and PERHILITAN are unable to respond to every complaint on the sale of wildlife and exotic pets largely because there are too many retail outlets selling live pets, and those selling exotic pets are often under the guise of legitimate businesses selling companion animals such as cats, dogs and rabbits.

As such, I would recommend that the authorities and licensing bodies severely restrict the sale of live animals to only select stores that are able to meet certain criteria such as having an in-house veterinarian and a 24-hour caretaker to deal with crises such as floods and fires. There should be an outright ban on the sale of pets in hypermarkets and department stores, and pet stores that do not meet the new requirements may be allowed to only sell pet food and supplies and provide services such as boarding and grooming.

Once such regulations are in place, PERHILITAN and the DVS can more effectively monitor the sale of wildlife and provide for routine inspection of pet retail outlets, respectively. Deaths of animals such as the unfortunate mongooses in Brickfields will then be reduced since there will be fewer retail outlets housing animals in unsafe and unhealthy conditions without a minder who could bring them to safety in the event of an emergency.

Although there may be arguments that such restrictions have no place in a free market economy, let us be reminded that if a particular trade depends on trifling with animal lives in order to prosper, then we are vindicated in rejecting or revolutionizing it in order to provide just and fair treatment to other living beings.


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