LETTER TO THE EDITOR
MAKE WELFARE OF ZOO ANIMALS A PRIORITY
I concur with SM Mohd Idris' view that Zoo Negara should place more emphasis on the welfare of its animals (Letters, 25 August 2009).
For years, complaints from disappointed visitors and outraged animal lovers were met with the official response that once funds have been received, Zoo Negara would be able to upgrade its facilities and improve the living conditions of the animals. Years have passed but the animals are still living in squalor. Very little effort is made to truly educate visitors on the animals' natural history or on animal welfare and wildlife conservation issues.
I am of the opinion that improving the quality of life of zoo animals need not be a costly exercise. The management of Zoo Negara could take basic steps such as the following:
1. All washable substrates should be cleaned and disinfected regularly and rotting food and animal waste must be removed from non-washable substrates as quickly as possible for health, safety and aesthetic purposes.
2.There should be proper drainage systems in the animal enclosures and there should not be standing water in the enclosures after a heavy rain. I have noticed algae-infested enclosures and food and water receptacles each time I visit Zoo Negara. This creates a risk of contamination of food and water, and of injury to animals and people due to slippery surfaces.
3. All animal enclosures must be of sufficient size and complexity to allow the animal to display species-typical behaviour such as dust-bathing, climbing or roosting, and must have sufficient variety in the substrate and topography to allow the animals to withdraw from social interaction with other animals and humans if the need arises.
4. Animal enclosures must not be overcrowded and must allow animals an opportunity for privacy. This is especially important in the petting zoo section, as most of the animals there did not appear to enjoy being handled by humans.
5. The animals at Zoo Negara appear to have been mostly grouped together according to taxonomy, i.e. all primates, or all birds, as opposed to being grouped in ersatz environments that attempt to resemble the animals' natural habitats and social groups.
6. I have read media reports that enrichment programmes were being carried out for the Zoo Negara animals but have not seen evidence of this in action. The animals at Zoo Negara looked invariably bored, listless and lethargic. Enrichment programmes such as food puzzles that help develop natural hunting or foraging skills, and auditory and olfactory simulations that resemble what an animal may hear and smell back in its habitat, do not cost much but will be able to provide animals in captivity with mental and physical stimulation.
7. Since the moats at Zoo Negara appear to be perpetually dirty, stagnant and foul-smelling, I would suggest filling up the moats where practicable and building solid walls with overhangs instead, to prevent escape and human-animal conflict. Viewing panels could be built into the walls, and some of these viewing panels should be of appropriate size and strength to safely allow for photo opportunities. This would eliminate the need for constant cleaning and filtration of the moats, create more land space in each enclosure and eliminate the problem of humans feeding junk to the animals or throwing things into animal enclosures. The walls could be constructed to appear more naturalistic, for example, to resemble a bamboo grove or tree trunks.
To be successful, Zoo Negara needs to do far more than just expand its collection of animal exhibits. Zoo Negara must be seen to practice and promote animal welfare. Zoo Negara's current strategy of adding animal exhibits without first attempting to reduce animal deaths simply defies science and common sense. A zoo that meets its purpose and acceptable standards is one that emphasises education and creates opportunity for scientific research and animal propagation to support wildlife conservation programmes.
WONG EE LYNN