Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Legislation Must Address Treatment of Captive Wildlife


The current review of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 is a timely and necessary one, as it is bedeviled by loopholes and inadequacies.

One of the deficiencies of the 1972 Act is that it is incapable of preventing or correcting animal abuse or neglect.

Section 94 of the Act states that; "Save as otherwise provided in section 56, every person who wounds or provokes any wild animal with the object of availing himself of the exception conferred by section 56, is guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable (in addition to any other penalty provided for any other offence) to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or to both."

Section 56 relates to the killing of wildlife in self-defence, if there is an "immediate danger to human life".

No section of the Act is devoted to preventing cruelty to and neglect of wildlife in captivity, for instance, in zoos and amusement parks. Thus there are no legislative means of protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of wildlife as long as they are not actively being killed or injured and visibly 'provoked'. Many commercial establishments may therefore keep wildlife in deplorable conditions with impunity.

A case in point is the A Famosa Resort in Melaka. Visitors were offered photo opportunities with a tiger, which was chained to the stage by its ankles with negligible room for movement.

Although some visitors were appalled by the manner in which the majestic tiger was displayed, under the law there was nothing they could do as long as the resort management had the requisite permits to keep and display wild animals, which were more often than not granted by PERHILITAN on 'educational' grounds.

The Act does not regulate the way in which captive wildlife may be displayed or treated, and although PERHILITAN admits that there were guidelines on how wildlife display facilities may be operated, the said document had not been given statutory footing. There is therefore no action one can take against establishments which confine wildlife in small and unsuitable enclosures, subject wildlife to stressful training or photo opportunity sessions and stop wildlife from engaging in their natural behaviour.

The penalty under section 94 is derisory when one considers that the offence is of wounding or provoking wildlife. Thus under our outdated law, an offender may get away with a mere fine for grievously injuring an animal, while a profiteer who confines, chains and otherwise fails to provide a healthy and stimulating environment for our national symbol, the tiger, will not even be charged with an offence.

There is little merit in issuing permits to private commercial establishments to display wildlife. Wildlife photo opportunities do not teach visitors anything about the natural history of the particular animal and fail miserably in cultivating love and concern for animals.

Visitors who do have their photos taken are motivated by curiosity or a perverse need to 'prove' human dominance. The more enlightened tourists leave the establishment only to render less-than-favourable reviews of the zoos and parks in question on tourism and animal welfare host sites.

Legislators must take immediate steps to safeguard our fast-vanishing natural heritage, while PERHILITAN and other bodies entrusted with the regulation of the wildlife trade must be more circumspect in the issuing of permits and be more vigilant in the monitoring of wildlife displays.


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