Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Letter to the Editor: Crow-Shooting Inhumane and Ineffective

The morons from the MPAJ Municipal Council wouldn't even let me bathe dogs in peace at the SPCA on Saturday, what with the pellets whizzing past my head and the dogs and cats yelping with fear and diving for cover, so I have decided that I would bring out my secret weapon, and prove that.... The Pen May Indeed Be Mightier Than The Pellet Gun!!!


The peace of the residents of and pedestrians at Ampang Jaya was disrupted on Saturday, 26th March, when MPAJ municipal council officers roamed the area with pellet guns in a crow-shooting operation.

Shooting as a means of controlling the population of crows is cruel and inhumane, as death, if it happens, is often not instantaneous. Birds are often maimed or injured by the pellets, and even if the shooter is an expert marksman, it cannot be denied that accidents may occur, causing injury to non-target birds and other animals. In addition, if the justification for the shooting operations is that the crows have become a nuisance, then it cannot be refuted that the shooting operations also constitute a nuisance. The noise from the pellets fired startle and distress people and other animals, as well as cause other birds to eliminate waste in fear, creating further hygiene problems in locations that are already besieged with cleanliness issues. Shooting crows is also impractical and time-consuming, as the crows take flight after the first shot is released and the shooters then have to cover great distances on foot to look for roosting crows again.

It is not without reason that some areas are more beset with scavenging crow and rodent populations than others. Crows are a symptom and not a cause of the problem of cleanliness. Crows congregate in areas such as hawker centres where food waste is left in the open and where well-intentioned but poorly informed residents leave food out for birds, macaques and other animals. Homeowners and local authorities in North America managed to resolve the problem of scavenging animals by switching to raccoon and bear-proof food storage units and waste bins, thus reducing human-animal conflict. We can adapt these tried-and-tested methods by enforcing regulations to ensure that all household and commercial food waste is disposed of in secure and covered receptacles. Unsanitary eateries and markets must face penalties for failing to comply with these requirements, and consumers must be educated not to patronise eateries that leave food and waste matter exposed. Grills and drain covers can be installed over drains to deter hawkers from pouring food waste into the drains, a dirty habit which leads to water pollution, flash floods and an increase in disease vector populations. Once these food sources are no longer available to crows, their population will disperse and reduce in number.

Despite popular belief, crows are not prolific breeders. They breed between April to July each year, mostly in large trees with big crowns. Understanding the natural history of the common house crow is essential if we are to find ways to manage their population. Municipal workers can be trained to identify crow nests and eggs and remove and destroy the unhatched eggs instead of killing adult crows.

There are many non-lethal alternatives to shooting, poisoning or trapping in managing the crow population, the most important of which is to improve cleanliness and to eliminate food sources. Property owners can repel crows from their premises with the use of recordings of the cries of hawks or the distress calls of other crows, which will lead crows to believe that there is a predatory bird in the area. Shiny, reflective objects such as unwanted CDs and holographic tape can scare away crows, as does the installation of plastic owls, scarecrows and bird ‘spikes’ that prevent crows from perching and roosting in one’s compound. It must be remembered that crows are highly intelligent birds that do not remain afraid or gullible for very long, and property owners and municipal officers must alternate between methods and pick different locations from time to time.

The local authorities and Ministry of Health must appreciate that areas with a high population density will always generate more waste, thus attracting more scavenging animals. The key to reducing human-animal conflict is not to continuously cull the population of animals deemed to be a nuisance, for the temporary vacuum it produces will only create opportunities for other scavenging populations to expand. The key to reducing human-animal conflict lies in reducing opportunities for disease vectors and unwelcome specie to breed, feed and reach adulthood in the first place.


(Note: Please do not ask why I chose to use the cover of Ted Hughes' "Crow". The late Mr. Edward James Hughes and I go back a long way. All the way back to 1996, in fact.)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

GAWS-SPCA Animal Welfare Legislation & CSI Workshop

When animal welfare hits the headlines, everyone rightfully demands action, but how many people actually know what animal protection laws are in place in Malaysia?

Who has the powers to search, seize, arrest and prosecute in a case of animal cruelty? Following the recent incidents in Malaysia in which a man was filmed using harsh and abusive methods to train a poodle named Sushi and another incident in which a young woman's depraved act of killing stray kittens and abusing a mother cat was caught on a CCTV, the SPCA has been urged by poorly-informed members of the public and Netizens to "find Sushi's abuser" and "catch them and punish them".

More worryingly, some internet users made attempts to carry out vigilante justice by identifying and vilifying individuals who they believed were the animal abuser in the former video clip, causing great distress to the maligned party and great inconvenience to the police and the SPCA, and actually hindered our investigations.

The aforementioned members of the public and internet users, though well-intentioned, caused great harm when they decided to play the role of judge, jury and executioner, without having clear and conclusive evidence.

What is evidence, and when is evidence not evidence that can be used in Court? How can you, as an animal rescuer or member of the public, get involved? If you choose to carry out your own investigations, do you know how to do so safely, legally and accurately?

Global Animal Welfare Solutions and SPCA Selangor conducted 2 Animal Welfare Legislation and CSI workshops on 19th & 20th March in an attempt to answer just these questions.

The workshops were aimed at animal rescuers who might want to gather evidence to make a police or DVS report, veterinary surgeons who wish to know more about how they can provide expert evidence, and members of the public who wish to learn more about animal welfare issues both in Malaysia and overseas.

I had a minor role in the workshop as Glyn's co-facilitator and I covered the topic of "Animal Protection Laws in Malaysia", namely:
i. Animals Act 1953 (Act 647);
ii. Penal Code (Act 574);
iii. Wildlife Conservation Act 2010; and
iv. Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171)

This was followed by a discussion on how and to whom to report offences against any of the abovementioned acts.

Glyn's sessions, which came after mine, were far more interesting, practical and engaging, and covered the following topics:
i. What constitutes evidence, how to collect and present it in a legal manner. How to write a police report, veterinary statement and record investigation information.
ii. Photographic evidence and Crime Scene Investigation.
iii. Animal Welfare Investigation Techniques.

The Saturday session was attended by 21 participants (my personal target was 15, so I would consider this a resounding success), most of whom are professionals such as veterinarians, personnel and volunteers from other SPCAs and animal welfare organisations, lawyers and pupils-in-chambers, an individual from the film industry, journalists and a veterinarian cum lecturer.

The new SPCA Education Centre, with furniture and furnishings very kindly sponsored by HSBC Malaysia.

Glyn starts his workshop on gathering and evaluating evidence.

That's a bit of a dog's tail and two bits of twist-ties, in case it's not clear to you.

Stick to the facts and stay accurate! Don't rely on conjecture or express opinions!

Big dog, overturned cage, tangled chain, lots of poo. Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

A close-up look at the poor dog reveals flesh wounds caused by the choke chain cutting into the dog's neck.

Glyn taking more questions from the floor.

Glyn and I handing out certificates and CSI Animal Welfare baseball caps to participants who successfully completed the workshop.

Front view of the first sample of the CSI Animal Welfare baseball cap. Photo taken by Nicole. I haven't collected my own cap yet.

A group photo for posterity.

If you missed the workshop, but would like to learn more about animal cruelty investigation techniques, you can purchase a copy of the Global Animal Welfare Solutions Animal Cruelty Investigation Field Manual from Glyn or me.

The workshop and manual are recommended for animal rescuers, veterinarians and animal lovers who want a better idea of how animal cruelty inspectors work and how they, as concerned Good Samaritans, can assist in investigations and court proceedings.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Come Together: Raptor Watch 2011

What is it about animal migrations that fascinates humans so much? Could it be that we are awed and humbled by the distances animals are willing to travel, relying only on their instincts, and the hardships they are willing to endure just to ensure the survival of their species? Could it be that the sight of large-scale animal movement evokes emotion in us because it brings back certain atavistic memories of a time when human communities too indulged in large-scale movement and relocation, driven by changes in climate and scarcity of food and water sources? Or could it just be that animals have in themselves such beauty, grace and intelligence that observing them engaging in natural behaviours and partaking in journeys fills us with joy and the reassurance that we are all part of something larger than ourselves?

It didn't always use to be this way. As I have previously mentioned in my 2008 Raptor Watch blogpost, raptor migration used to be a phenomenon that was of interest only to the scientific community. It only became an event of mainstream interest due to the efforts of the Malaysian Nature Society in educating the public, mobilising and capitalising on mass media and lobbying the legislators and elected representatives.

Raptor Watch 2011 saw a number of improvements compared to previous years. There was better media coverage and education and awareness initiatives. We had a higher turnout of visitors, especially from schools and the local community. We maintained and improved on ideas that worked -- water refilling stations and recycling bins, for instance -- and eliminated ideas that didn't work, such as having corporate sponsors hijack the event. We generated very little waste but a lot of positive attention and publicity. It was a memorable and enjoyable weekend for all.

I was again part of the organising committee for this year and my contributions including emceeing together with Lillian, conducting an admittedly tough Green Living Quiz together with Cindy and organising The Raptor Watch 2011 Amazing Race, where teams of 2 race to solve clues and complete a series of 5 challenges.

What did we get for all our hard work, besides the feeling of satisfaction that comes from a job well done? For me, it wasn't merely a weekend of hard work but also one of parties and camaraderie with my friends in the Nature Guides and of strengthening my commitment to and bond with Mother Nature.

Video from the official MNS Raptor Watch Website: Raptors (mostly Oriental Honey-Buzzards) in flight over Tanjung Tuan.

My Nature Guide buddies, Pasu, Rangamal and Karthik, at their booth on Saturday, getting ready to register participants for the Forest Walks. We saw a marked increase in visitors registering for all our guided walks this year, and this kept all our Guides on their toes until late on Sunday afternoon.

Visitors checking out the various attractions at our booths. Our
booths offered everything from merchandise, games and educational activities to opportunities to be involved in conservation issues in Malaysia.

Here I am, playing the Can Knockdown game at one of our funfair-type game booths before we packed up on Saturday. Most of our games used discarded materials for the games equipment and props, such as egg cartons for the ball toss game and the cardboard cores of adhesive tape for the ring toss game.

Visitors engaging in beach activities such as kayaking and banana boat rides at the cove outside our event grounds.

Visitors watching an uncharacteristically late flock of over 1,000 Oriental Honey-Buzzards flying in around 1700 hrs on Saturday. Raptors usually prefer to fly around noon, when there are more hot-air thermals.

A group photo of the volunteers for posterity.

Lili and John taking a breather at the deck chairs by the beach at Casa Rachardo, where we were staying, before dinner on Saturday night.

Ilham Resort looked like a fairyland at night.

We adjourned to Pasu's house for a party after the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at Ilham Resort on Saturday night.

The Raptor Watch Amazing Race was flagged off on Sunday morning. I am full of praise for the 10 volunteers who learned up their roles as Race Marshalls within 5 minutes. The Race went well and Christa, one of the participants, is seen here trying to complete the final challenge, which involved trying to identify birds. Christa and Raj came in second in the Open Category.

Rodhi and Mary try to solve the final challenge in the Amazing Race. They came in third in the Race.

My friends Ilyas and Tina beat everyone else to come in first in the Open Category of the Amazing Race. They won a camping bag containing 2 sets of holiday vouchers, Bros water bottles, jackets, recycled paper products and some other goodies.

Renowned bird artist Mr. Teh Yew Kiang offered a lesson in sketching birds and still life objects on Sunday afternoon. His 2-hour art workshop was very well received and highly appreciated. I hope he volunteers to give us an art lesson again next year.

Along with other participants of the art workshop, I learned the finer points of shading and highlighting still life objects. When Mr. Teh learned of my interest in cartooning, he gave me valuable pointers in illustrating cartoons as well. "Exaggerate the features", he advised. "Make the eyes bigger, the snout shorter, the nose upturned for a cuter look". I was thrilled with the results.

In the early evening after the close of the event, I took myself on a walk up to the Cape Rachardo lighthouse. The paved trail through the forest reserve was full of daytrippers, mostly young families and gaggles of college students. I was pleased to see people getting in touch with Nature.

The lighthouse greeted me like a faithful old friend.

A view of the sea from the lighthouse.

We repaired to Pasu's house in Port Dickson again on Sunday after Raptor Watch, and had a cookout in her lovely garden. What fun it is to eat smoky charred vegetables and corn-on-the-cob in the company of one's friends! Everything tastes better when you are tired but contented.

Karthik and John play a game of one-on-one football after the meal. What a high-energy ending to a high-energy weekend!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fab Foods and Flash Floods

Appetising and salubrious vegetarian food may be widely available in Malaysia, but not so at my workplace, where choices are rather limited. One can only take so much spaghetti napolitana each week. And so it was a blessing to me that I discovered Omfood, a vegetarian food delivery service, in mid-January. I was introduced to its services by my fellow vegetarians at work, and this helped alleviate some of my greenie guilt over the issue of the fuel miles that my food had to travel. Since the motorcycle delivery boys were already delivering lunch tiffins to my colleagues and to homes and offices in the area, my subscription to their service would be consistent with the principles of fuel economy.

I haven't been disappointed by the food either. Lunch became something to look forward to. Each day, I can expect to receive generous portions of spiced rice, low-sodium curries and wholesome, delicious vegetables.

And so when I received a call from the food service operators 2 weeks ago that the food delivery service would be suspended for a week due to staff-related issues, I was a bit dismayed. I didn't want to have to go back to eating insipid pasta after 2 months of terrific sambhars, rasams and vegetables.

I didn't go back to cafeteria pasta. I started packing my own bento lunches to work for the entire week instead. The result? My colleagues are never going to let me live this down.

My friends could hardly believe that their tough-talking, camouflage-trousered buddy packed these dainty hearts and stars for breakfast.

The cherry-tomato balloons, cucumber blossoms and cheese-and-carrot stars had my friends laughing and exclaiming in surprise.

... and this is the chain store that inspired such whimsy in my packed lunches. Daiso's kitchenware department has a wide variety of bento kits, cookie cutters and fancy fruit picks that makes lunch-making an art form.

The food-themed novelty erasers at Daiso's office and school supplies section also provided bento-packing ideas.

Only the Japanese can make dying vermin look cute. It's all in the packaging.

Bento boxes aside, there's nothing to stop me from playing with my food. I made this to cheer up That Special Someone:

"I am the Darth Vadai! Come with me to the Dhall Side!"
That Special Someone was suitably amused.

Food preparation and making my own lunches, however, will never supplant volunteering as my pastime of choice.

I arrived at the SPCA on Saturday afternoon after football practice to find that Rose, Sarah and several other volunteers have already bathed and tickwashed most of the dogs.

Adoption rates remain encouraging, and this adorable silver kitten that Amelia and I played with found a new home the same day.

Here's a photo of Amelia taken the previous week, with the panda puppy that was surrendered together with his sleepy brown twin. I was informed both puppies have been brought home for fostering by one of our volunteers.

Banjo Dog insisted on following me around the shelter even though I informed him that I would not be giving him a bath. There was a definite chill in the air and it threatened to pour with rain.

Look how overcast the sky was! The raintrees behind the shelter creaked and moaned in the strong winds.

... And rain like the clappers it did! I continued cleaning cages and kennels unfazed...

... Until the water level started rising rapidly. Much of the shelter is below street level, and despite all the improvements we have carried out to our drainage system, the combination of mud, silt and stormwater exceeded the capacity of our drains, thus resulting in a flash flood.

I was stranded in the food preparation area by the rising floodwaters, and cleared a space on a ledge for the dogs and I to stand on. Here I am huddled together with the dogs for warmth. Somebody, please send us an Ark!

Fortunately, flash floods are named flash floods for a reason. We have kept our drains clear of obstructions and the water levels went down after an hour or two, leaving behind a frightful mess of foul-smelling mud and litter. I didn't want the shelter to be dirty on a Sunday morning, when large numbers of visitors are regularly expected, and so I got to work cleaning and disinfecting the shelter. Everything smelled fresh as a daisy when I was done.

Global Animal Welfare Solutions and SPCA Selangor will be proceeding with our Animal Welfare Legislation and CSI Workshop on 19th and 20th March. Participants at the course will receive a folder containing the current legislation and print outs of the power point presentations and a selection of blank forms and templates along with an 'CSI Animal Welfare' baseball cap and a certificate. Come book your place and learn animal welfare investigation techniques from the experts!
(I'm not one of the experts, I'm just the boring old fart who does the presentation on Malaysian animal protection legislation).