Thursday, 12 September 2013

Letter to the Editor: Investigate Reports of Cruelty to Elephants in Resort

SPCA Selangor views with concern the videos which surfaced on Astro Awani in late August documenting incidences of cruelty and negligence towards captive elephants kept at the A' Famosa Resort in Melaka. This is not the first time the Resort has been implicated in wildlife cruelty.
The Resort was instructed by the Dept of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) to cease offering animal shows and photo opportunities with tigers in May 2010 following public outrage and investigations by Perhilitan. Yet Perhilitan has dismissed recent reports of cruelty against elephants and videos evidencing the same, and had claimed that there is no mistreatment of the elephants and no contravention of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. This could set a dangerous precedent of indifference towards objective and credible evidence tendered by citizens who are expressly encouraged on Perhilitan's website to report incidences of abuse and exploitation of wildlife. It would also perpetuate a culture of impunity of wildlife crimes.
We are especially concerned over Perhilitan's brief and cavalier denial of the abuse and statement that the living conditions of the elephants were "okay". What would the beatings of the elephants constitute, if not abuse and mistreatment?
We believe that concerned members of the public have a right to know whether the elephants were assessed by independent veterinarians, what the findings are, under what standards and guidelines are the elephants' living conditions considered "okay", and whether there will be regular follow-up assessments of the wildlife kept by the said Resort by Perhilitan. Perhilitan is endowed with the power to monitor wildlife displays and wildlife in captivity.
The closure of the Saleng Zoo in June 2011 demonstrates that Perhilitan is capable of taking positive action against errant zoos and wildlife facilities. SPCA Selangor therefore urges Perhilitan to carry out its investigations in a transparent and neutral manner, giving consideration not only to the current conditions in the Resort, but also to the photographic and documentary evidence previously tendered by visitors.
We urge Perhilitan to take appropriate action under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 without fear or favour. It is noted that A' Famosa Resort has a special permit from the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment to keep elephants for "ecotourism" purposes. We must take into cognisance that there are insufficient regulations in Malaysia on what businesses may use the label of ecotourism, despite the existence of a National Ecotourism Plan and a relatively sophisticated legal framework where wildlife and the environment are concerned.
SPCA Selangor wishes to remind consumers to carry out basic research on tourist destinations and tour operators before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community. Ecotourism must necessarily sensitize people to the beauty of nature and vulnerability of wildlife and animals. Animals are trained to give rides or perform tricks through beatings and cruel training methods, including by the withholding of food. Animals performing tricks do not teach us anything about the natural history of the animal, their conservation status or their needs.
As a purportedly caring society, we must learn to appreciate wildlife as they are, and from a distance, without feeling the need to manhandle them and force them to entertain us. Until full and fair investigations are carried out and necessary action taken to end the suffering of the animals kept in A' Famosa Resort, SPCA Selangor urges all Malaysians and tourists to cease visiting the said Resort and other wildlife facilities and travelling zoos in which animals are kept in deplorable conditions.
Wong Ee Lynn
Senior Volunteer
SPCA Selangor

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Reading with The Revolving Library

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, 'I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!'

All educators agree on the benefits of reading to children. Reading to children helps develop their vocabulary, imagination and language skills. It prepares them for academic success. It improves their communication and logical thinking skills. It enhances discipline and concentration. When we volunteer with children with a history of loss, trauma or economic/academic deprivation, reading to them helps them process new experiences and cope with the stress of dealing with changes and transitions, whether it is starting school or a visit to the dentist. Children also learn to identify with characters they like and emulate the courage, honesty or diligence of protagonists in books.

It is for this reason that Aravind and I started volunteering with The Revolving Library, a non-profit initiative which has the objective of promoting literacy and the reading habit among underprivileged children by setting up revolving/rotating mini-libraries in welfare homes and children's shelters and conducting volunteer reading programmes. It started when I purchased books for their library as part of a Kindness Project in loving memory of a dear friend, but in typical CovertOps fashion, I didn't want to just foist gifts on others. To me, a true gift is one in which one invests one's time, effort and passion.

It wasn't easy fitting reading sessions into my overpacked schedule, especially since I am attending lectures on Saturdays, but somehow we managed to make it to the House of Love, a newly established children's home in Klang, on May 18. The children come from backgrounds with very little exposure to the English language, so it was necessary for us to speak slowly and simply and to provide multilingual explanations in Malay and Mandarin. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the ability to read at average grade level, most of the children would score below 2. Yet they were enthusiastic and happy to see the regular volunteers, i.e. Vannitha, Lorraine, Indran and Grace. The children have a very positive attitude towards books and reading and saw the weekly visits of the volunteers as a treat.

We gave the children individual attention and took one child under our wing each.

Grace reading to one of the boys.

Indran reading to Jessica.

Aravind reading to Jonathan, who was unfortunately not attentive.

Here I am reading an Indian folktale, "The Fish That Talked", to Joseph.

I had offered to be the reader of the day and read "Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch" out loud to the children. They enjoyed the story tremendously because it shows you what a lot of good a little love can do. People behave and think differently when they realise that someone cares for them.

This was followed up with an activity and discussion session on the book. The children earned stickers for recalling Mr. Hatch's acts of kindness, and for thinking up acts of kindness they can do themselves. We've got some good ones from the children, including "asking the new kid in school to play with us during recess," "not laughing at someone who falls down, and helping them up instead," and "helping Teacher carry books."

Then it was time for a noisier game. The children played "I Spy" to practice their vocabulary. This was followed by a sing-along session.

Our second visit to The House of Love was on their official opening day, and we had prepared some games and activities as usual.

I prepared Pass-the-Parcel with a vocabulary-building twist. What we hadn't expected, however, was to arrive at the home to find it filled with well-wishers from the local community and representatives from various welfare organisations. The children were all stressed out and anxious over having to perform some musical numbers for the guests, so there was no opportunity for us to carry out our reading programme and activities. Oh well. There's always next time.

The Revolving Library also conducts reading sessions in several other children's homes and community centres in Ampang, Kepong and Slim River. We always welcome new volunteers and donors. It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. And it takes a village library and a whole gaggle of committed and enthusiastic volunteer librarians to raise a book-loving child.

To find out more about The Revolving Library, click on the links below:

The Revolving Library's Official Website.

The Revolving Library's Facebook Page.

Email for more information.