Wednesday, 26 August 2009

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.



Unknown said...

I haven't visited Zoo Negara for a good many years. Then it looked run down and boring. Whata pity:( Hope with this letter, appropriate measures will be taken to get things going right for the animals. We wait for good news. See, you got the authorities to 'shoot' a response in the media about the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. Is there any other zoo besides Taiping Zoo?

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks, Keats! This letter was published in The Star today. Zoo Negara and Aquaria KLCC are the same -- always letting animal exhibits die and then replacing them with new stock, only to have them die again. They should work harder at keeping animals alive. And Zoo Negara used to have horrible elephant shows where they make elephants put their front quarters up on each other's backs. One misstep and we'd get fatal injuries. Horrible people dreaming up terrible things to do to poor animals!

Saya... said...

Aiyah, I never visit Zoo already...too depressing! Imagine us being caged up and viewed!

My kids wanna see animals, I ask them to go forage in my garden and look for free ones...ants, cacing or anything lah!

Fuiyo, dasat punya surat....Zoo Director probably almost peed in pants...hehehe

hobbit1964 said...

Great that you have said something about it. am certain that the thought has occured to them, but has been overwhelmed by other priorities. It's the Malaysian way.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Saya, your girls would get to see tree shrews, birds, monkeys, gibbons and the like in most parks in Malaysia. We are lucky that way! Taman Rimba Ampang is a good place for animal-watching. Thanks for your kind words. Covert Dad asked if I were planning to sit in the National Zoo Management Panel.

Dear Jeffrey, of course the thought has occurred to them. They just choose to ignore it. Maybe they think that if they ignore animal deaths long enough, it would go away. Happy La-La Land, it's the Malaysian way.

mamasita said...

Great suggestions! Please send a copy to the PM's least your letter may get him to realise what are the lackings and necessary actions that should be carried out!

He too wants to see the rakyat happily bringing their children to the National zoo!

p.s. If the PM coughs ahhemm on this matter, you'll see some improvement even in a week!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for your encouraging comment, Datin Mamasita! There was a response by a lady (also a member of the public) to my letter in the Star today. Obviously she merely wanted to let people know that she has visited many countries, because Zoo Negara wasn't the worst (compared to what? Bali Zoo? (this one is pretty bad!) Kabul Zoo?). Obviously she doesn't have a background in animal care work or veterinary science and chooses to see what she wants to see: "Wow! So many weird and cute animals!" instead of "There are untreated sores on the big cats and the monkeys have demodectic mange". The writer asked SM Mohd Idris and me to 'volunteer at the Zoo'. Look, my friend Reve's daughter Inger had signed up as a Zoo Negara volunteer and for 4 weeks, they asked her to merely sweep the pavements and talk to visitors. She left because she wanted to help with the preparation of animal feed and they wouldn't let her into the kitchen. She started suspecting that there was too much that Zoo Negara needed to hide, such as poor hygiene standards and low-quality food. Volunteer? I have plenty enough volunteering on my plate as it is.

Pat said...

I saw your letter in The Star today - yup, I read yesterday's papers ;)

It said it all, didn't it? That people would actually pay money and go ogle the animals and not care that they're hurt or sick or slowly going insane.

Do we really need zoos? Why do we need to see these animals caged and upset, ripped away from their natural habitats? I just don't get it lah.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, Pat! For the record, the last three times I visited zoos was as a ZooChecker. I had to pay money to see if the animals were suffering or in some form of need. :o(

We don't need zoos and zoos aren't helping in conservation or education efforts at all. In Zoocheck, we used a stopwatch to time how long the average visitor spent at a particular exhibit. My results: Fewer than 5 seconds at each exhibit. And only 1-2 out of every 10 visitors bothered to read the info on the plaque. And most visitors shouted, clapped, rapped on cage bars and glass partitions or threw things to see the animals move.

Is there any good news at all? Funnily enough, yes. At least 1 out of every 10 zoo visitors I observed said things along the lines of "poor animals, it's so dirty and crowded and they are bored/lonely/sad/tired/sick/old". We should now try to work on the remaining 9 out of 10.

Pat said...

You're a Zoo Checker? That's cool!

I wonder what the animals think when they look at us, looking at them?!

Perhaps it's: "What a bunch of bozos! Hey you. Yes, you, you idiot! Why in heck are you clapping and poking and acting like a moron?! I see you, lah! Get away from here already!"

And, that's the remaining 9 our of 10 you need to work on. Hard work ahead, no?

Btw, I saw those same 9 people at the Elephant Sanctuary. Doing the same moronic things they'd probably done at the zoo!