Sunday, 17 February 2013

Helping Hands at the National Zoo

As an animal welfare volunteer and activist, I have been following the progress of Zoo Negara for several years, especially since the Malaysian Zoo Animal Welfare Forum in Sept 2010.

I was advised by friends in conservation circles that Zoo Negara now complies with the latest guidelines set by the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (Waza) and South-East Asian Zoo Association (Seaza) and has increased its conservation awareness efforts. It no longer does elephant shows and there is a lot more emphasis on enrichment programmes for the animals. All the recently acquired animals are legally sourced and there is a great deal more transparency in the way the Zoo operates. I was heartened by this and decided that I too, would like to make a difference in the lives of the Zoo animals. And that is how I began volunteering with Zoo Negara last year.

The Zoo Volunteer Programme is not only a good opportunity for volunteers to get hands-on about helping wildlife, it is also an exercise in transparency. Volunteers can see for themselves that animals are not being denied the food and medical care they need, and volunteers can act as the Zoo management’s eyes and ears in pointing out things that are less than satisfactory.

I decided to volunteer because I felt the need to walk the talk on the welfare of wildlife in captivity. Being part of the solution often entails getting down and dirty and doing hands-on work. To have a World Class Zoo, we need to be a World Class Society -- and it begins with you and me.

It has been a few months since my last volunteer session at the Zoo due to work and other volunteer commitments. I decided to spend Thursday, Feb 14, at the Zoo after spending Tuesday, Feb 12, at the SPCA shelter bathing all the mummy dogs and cleaning the kennels and cattery.


Regular volunteer Hon See and I help to muck out the Seladang enclosure and remove the leftover food from the day before.

Washing the Seladang enclosure concrete substrate, while being observed by the incredibly tame and friendly Seladang.

Time to clean out the Capybara enclosure and give them their breakfast. The Capybara came running out to us like dogs. 
"Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! What's for breakfast?" they seemed to ask Omar the zookeeper.

The capybaras were stunningly beautiful, friendly and not timid at all. We raked their enclosure clean and then put down trays of food for them.

 I got to explore the Zoo during my lunch break. Free-range flamingos foraged for food in their pond.

A giraffe enjoying his meal at the Savannah Walk, where upgrading work is being carried out to expand, enrich and improve the animals' living conditions.

Butterflies enjoying their lunch break as well in the Insect House. The pretty pink inflorescence of this creeper, known as Coral Vine or Chain of Love, seems to attract a lot of butterflies.

Tapirs chilling out in the shade. I was supposed to clean out their enclosure after the lunch break but it started raining like the clappers and turning everything into mud.

Asian elephants, my favourite beings. A life in captivity is never ideal and never a good substitute for living in their natural habitat, but at least these elephants did not have their ankles chained and were free to move around and play with their enrichment activities and devices. Their enclosure seems comfortable and roomy enough, and the elephants did not display as many stereotypies (such as begging or swaying) as I used to observe in captive elephants. 

Free-range painted storks roaming the Zoo compound and socialising with the visitors. These are the same birds that fly out to the Ampang Elevated Highway daily to sit on the lampposts and return to the Zoo at night.

The tiger enclosure is now bigger and offers the tigers more hiding spaces and enrichment activities.

 Flying foxes resting during the day.

The noisy diesel trams have been replaced with silent electric eco-trams.

What a difference a year makes! 
When I first wrote to the Zoo Director requesting them to consider eliminating styrofoam products from the Zoo concession stands, I faced so much criticism and so many objections that I felt no longer welcome at the Zoo. 
But the styrofoam ban was finally implemented during World Earth Day last year and is still being enforced. Educational posters such as this one are placed on notice boards and around eateries within the Zoo to educate the public. 
Many thanks to the Education team who made this campaign a success! 

The Zoo Volunteer Programme is not for those who want to come and have fun for several hours and see animals up close without doing any real work.

As with a normal workday, you have to be there for a stipulated time, i.e. 8.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m., and be prepared to work continuously for much of the 8 hours. You should come in comfortable old clothes that cover the knees, chest and shoulders, and wear covered shoes, e.g. trainers. Bring your own drinking water, sun block and food to reduce packaging waste.

To register, you need to contact the Education Department at at least a day in advance. The registration form is available at, or you can register when you arrive.

You must arrive at the Zoo on the designated day before 8.15 a.m. If you are driving, do try to park at the staff parking area or neighbouring residential area to avoid having to pay a hefty parking fee to the car park concessionaire. Enter the Zoo from Gate 3 and ask the Security personnel to direct you to the Education Office / Library. Inform the Education officer on duty that you are here to volunteer and submit your registration form together with the RM10 administrative fee.

Being a zoo volunteer is rewarding in so many aspects. Not only is it educational both from an animal care and natural history perspective, you also get to appreciate the challenges of operating and managing a wildlife facility. It is also empowering because you know you are able to make a difference in the lives of animals.


Ellen Whyte said...

now that is TERRIFIC news! I'm so pleased! We must meet up soon. Au says Meow!

Pat said...

Whenever I read you, I love your walk-the-talk stance most of all.

This was a good read, and I am pinching it for The English Cottage - a little bit of education never hurt no one ;)

Love all the pictures, too!


~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Ellen, Au, Target and Guido,
Thank you so much for coming over! Yes, the Zoo is making good progress. Many people do not realise that many of the animals were born in captivity and it's close to impossible to rehabilitate and release them. Some of the tigers, for instance, were confiscated from smaller zoos and animal shows that were shut down because they didn't meet the Dept of Wildlife and National Parks criteria and standards of operations. So the National Zoo is playing an important role in providing a home for these captive-born, imprinted tigers who wouldn't otherwise survive in the wild. But I wish all zoos would stop acquiring more animals and just concentrate on the ones they have. Just concentrate on the confiscated tigers and whatever -- don't go about bringing in pandas and penguins.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Pat,
Thank you for your kind words! Please pinch all you want, I know you like the picture of the butterflies on the coral vine most of all. Everyone should walk the talk, politicians most of all. Hope you are enjoying your CNY break!

Unknown said...

Great news to share!The MCG members and I had a good introduction to the Enrichment Centre and info highlighted the animals that are being threatened in the wild. Most of all, you're a superb volunteer:)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

You guys did a great job, Keats! I saw the pinatas you made for the animals in the enrichment workshop on Thursday.

larnee said...

Wow... it's improved so much since I've last been there. I remember the last time I went, I left feeling sad for the animals there. But it looks so much better now! Thanks to people like you of course.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for coming over, and for your vote of confidence, Larnee! The Zoo has made good progress only because the management recognises that they need to improve. Without this realisation, nothing would change. And we still have a long way to go. The penguins and reptiles still need better and larger enclosures.