Thursday, 28 July 2011

Letter to the Editor: Johor State Zoo -- A Crying Shame!

Paloh the Baby Elephant -- subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Her only crime is that she has the bad fortune of being housed in Johor Zoo.


Johor state Local Government, Housing, Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Datuk Ahmad Zahri Jamil’s defence of the Johor Zoo (The Star,“No reason to shut down state’s iconic park, says exco man”, Monday July 25, 2011) is flippant and preposterous. The zoo’s long history, low ticket prices and high number of local visitors are neither justifications for cruelty to animals nor indicators of the Zoo's animal welfare standards or educational value.

The recent outrage over Johor Zoo’s cruel treatment of Paloh the baby elephant is only the latest in a long line of complaints against the zoo for wildlife offences and animal abuse and exploitation. As recently as 2010, Johor Zoo was openly selling illegal wildlife in a shop within its premises, and in 2011 the Zoo made the headlines again with Shirley the chain-smoking orang-utan.

In May 2011, it was reported that all wildlife establishments would now have to undergo auditing under new guidelines drawn up by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. (The Star, “Audit on all who keep wild animals” Friday May 6, 2011). This move is a timely and welcome one, and any progress on the implementation of the said audit guidelines would be highly appreciated.

With the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) in
December 2010, cruelty to wildlife is finally recognized as a criminal offence, and enforcement agencies such as Perhilitan are now 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 to taking positive action against errant zoos and wildlife facilities. It is therefore imperative that Perhilitan requires all zoos and parks, including Johor Zoo, to comply with the standards set by the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (MAZPA), failing which permits and licences may be revoked or not issued. Although these guidelines are not legally binding, they would provide direction in ensuring that zoos are professionally managed and will advance the cause of animal rights and welfare.

Johor Zoo needs urgent reform, if not a complete closure until a new management panel can be appointed, in order to protect the safety and health of the animals it houses. It is critical that Perhilitan and other NGOs and zoo associations be allowed to inspect and audit Johor Zoo and offer recommendations to be implemented immediately to prevent further harm to the animals. Failure to comply with the recommendations should result in the suspension or closure of Johor Zoo, the revocation of its licence, and the seizure and transfer of its animal residents to better facilities. If the Johor State Exco views tourist numbers as the main indicator of success, then it is submitted that improvements to the animals’ welfare and living conditions would greatly increase the number of visitors and positive feedback.

Zoos, aquariums and animal parks should be educational facilities that provide both humans the opportunity to learn about the natural history of wild animals and the need to protect and conserve the natural habitats of wildlife, and captive animals the opportunity to learn survival and social skills natural to their specie. Exploiting wildlife under the guise of preserving endangered specie is reprehensible and goes against the goals of conservation and environmental education.


Please come and sign the petition too! Send Baby Paloh To A Sanctuary!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Football's Coming Home

Despite the events I had written about in my previous blogpost, the Liverpool FC vs Malaysia XI match on July 16 was still one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had.

Over 34,800 fans turned up for the training session on Thurs, July 14. Audrey Q and I took half the day off to go to the National Stadium to watch Liverpool train. It was exciting for me to finally get to see my childhood heroes, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, in the flesh.

Watching the training session on a sweltering Thursday evening. We made new friends, did the Mexican Wave, caused injury to others with our vuvuzelas and cheered ourselves hoarse.

Over 34,800 fans turned up just to watch Liverpool train.

Rushie waved at us!!!!

Even watching our team warm up was fun.

It's Phil Thompson AND Kenny Dalglish! What LEGENDS!!!

Saturday was the day of the match proper. I went to the SPCA in the morning to attend to some shelter work and have breakfast with Kitties-From-Sydney's Mama and left by afternoon to pick Audrey Q up. We loaded the Battletank with a cooler full of cold drinks and potato chips and went on our way to the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.

A sea of red greeted us on the match day.

Two super excited fans. Audrey was tired and in some pain by then (see previous blogpost) but she is one tough cookie and mustered enough energy and enthusiasm to cheer and yell. Thankfully, she didn't have to stand much and didn't have to jostle for standing room, as we sat in the designated seating area for the differently-abled area. When the shoving and blocking got too much, we used our vuvuzelas to scare the able-bodied ruffians away. HONK!!!

Man on! Man on!

Liverpool FC vs Malaysian XI, July 16.

GOAAAAAL!!!!! I snapped this right before the ball went in!!!

Okay, he dribbled it through, so he's not offside, see?

6th goal from Liverpool, scored by Kuyt! Got this right after the ball went in! See how dejected the Malaysian team looks! The Malaysian goalie looked like he didn't want to get up off the ground anytime soon!

... and the crowd goes WIIIIIIILD!

Thanks for the memories! You'll never walk alone!

A sweaty, stinky and triumphant fan after the match.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Letter to the Editor: The Disabled Continue to be Marginalised at Sporting Events


Malaysia may be a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and may have enacted the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 (Act 685), but in reality, our laws, society and institutions fail to commit to the genuine inclusion of disabled individuals in all aspects of living.

At no time was this more evident to me than during the Liverpool FC vs Malaysian XI match on July 16, when I was not allowed to park at the designated parking space for the disabled, or even allowed to approach the entrance to allow my disabled friend to disembark from my car. Our polite request for access to the parking space for the disabled was dismissed by the traffic police stationed around the National Stadium, and they told us in no uncertain terms that the disabled was not allowed to park in the stadium car park as the entire parking area was reserved for VVIPs and members of royalty. The event management company personnel and traffic police shrugged off our questions with an air of impatience and insensitivity, and the unspoken message seemed to be that the disabled should know their own limitations and should not have come to watch a sport that they could not participate in.

We ended up having to park over 1km away in front of the Astro headquarters and had to walk to the National Stadium. My friend was exhausted and in considerable pain and distress when we finally arrived. To make matters worse, the designated seating area for the disabled was occupied by able-bodied spectators and I spent most of the match requesting the other spectators not to push my friend or stand in front of her. During our walk back to our car after the match, we witnessed another spectator in a wheelchair attempt to manoeuvre his wheelchair along the uneven sidewalks and road shoulder as motorcyclists rode dangerously close to his wheelchair.

The official website of the National Sports Complex boasts of designated parking spaces and seating areas for the disabled, but this is mere tokenism as there is no sincere effort to ensure that the disabled have reasonable access to the said infrastructure, not when the disabled are barred from parking at the disabled parking zone and have to struggle to get a seat at the disabled seating area.

Malaysian society tries to pass itself off as a compassionate one, but it is, in essence, feudalistic. When the need to impress the wealthy and powerful in our society overrides the safety needs and basic rights of our disabled citizens, we know we have a lot of soul-searching to do.


Friday, 15 July 2011

To Have Loved And Lost

Life has pretty much settled into its old routine of work, social and volunteer commitments after my much-needed 2-week break. I returned from the Conference in China with fresh ideas on streamlining processes and procedures at the SPCA, and campaigns and projects for the SPCA, Bentong Farm Sanctuary, Malaysian Nature Society and Project Second Chance.

I found time to reconnect with family and friends in the past month, following the completion of the MNS Open Day and several other projects and the conclusion of the Conference. Impromptu drinks and conversations with dear friends and unscheduled dinner dates provided comfort and companionship at a time when I needed it most.

The past month has also been a busy one for Project Second Chance. Upon my return from China, I learned that Nicole was fostering 6 sickly kittens found in a dustbin, and so I offered to foster 2 for her.

Despite numerous visits to the vet, my two fosters, Topsy and Turvy, succumbed to feline panleukopenia 2 weeks after I took them in. They never had an illness-free day in their short lives. I tried everything within my means but failed to save them. I think of them often and hope to do better by them in another lifetime.

The very least I could do for Topsy & Turvy in this lifetime: I donated blood again on 12th July and did the pattidana puja to transfer the merit of this act to them (as well as to Little One, Baby and Sneakers, the other 3 kittens from the batch fostered by Nicole, who didn't make it either) that they may be blessed with better karma in another lifetime.

I am told it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I am glad I had Topsy and Turvy to love and care for, if only for a week or two. I take some comfort too in the knowledge that they died in a safe place, surrounded by love, and not in the dustbin where their pain and suffering would have gone unnoticed.

Hopscotch, who was named after Louis Sellier, continues to live with me until I can find him a good home. Despite all the vitamins and supplements I feed him with daily, he remains painfully thin, although he is active and has a reasonable appetite.

Please help me spread the word to find Hopscotch a good home! He has been dewormed 4 times, vaccinated, given flea baths and housetrained. I plan to have him neutered in 3 months. He is playful, sociable, intelligent, affectionate, has a good memory and enjoys playing with other cats.

A more interesting Project Second Chance update comes in the form of an abandoned white spitz that Covert Twin discovered in a vacant house. After finding out from the neighbours that the poor dog has been left to fend for himself for more than a month and upon determining that the doggie needs medical treatment for his sores and eye infection, I managed to engage the assistance of the wonderful SPCA Inspectorate team to rescue the dog from the abandoned house.

Kelvin of the SPCA Inspectorate Team picks up the relieved but fearful spitz from the abandoned house on 1.7.2011

The spitz, estimated to be around 4 - 5 years old, has since been renamed Rembrandt and is currently under my care. He has since been dewormed, vaccinated, groomed, given anti-tick/flea treatment and neutered. I am rehabilitating him in my home and training him to get used to loud noises, strangers, and being on leash and collar. He is quite nervous but is responding to affection and is quite eager to please!
Please help me spread the word in order to find him a good home.

Every animal deserves a second chance. Please help me make a difference by letting your friends know about my lovely Hopscotch and Rembrandt, who are in need of good permanent homes. Thank you most kindly!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Chen-Du, Zhao An! Ni hao!

When I first learned that the Asia for Animals Conference 2011 would be held in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, I assumed, perhaps unfairly, that we would have our work cut out in a country known for abuses against animals, particularly wildlife, and that vegetarian food would not be available outside of the Conference venue. I even flew to China with over 10 kilogrammes of instant aloo gobi, granola bars and instant mashed potatoes in my rucksack.

Chengdu exceeded my expectations, but perhaps it was only because I was in very good company. Here are photos taken while exploring Chengdu on foot and by Metro with my gang.

Chinese cyclists and motorcyclists. For a communist country, China sure is lawless! Nobody wears a helmet or a seatbelt and they all drive in any damn direction they please. It was like being in a blender, with vehicles going in all directions at high speed.

Chairman Mao at Tianfu Square. Outside the Sichuan Museum of Science and Technology. Very commie. Even the musical fountains are ludicrously commie.

A cart selling fresh peaches outside a convenience store across the road from a bank. Gloriously cheap, at only 5 peaches for 5 yuan. It would have cost me 3-4 times the amount back home.

A petty trader on his overladen bike. This is the kind of stuff you see in those "Only In China" e-mail forwards.

Ha! A Chinese child soldier! I don't think he was forcibly conscripted. He looks too pleased with himself.

Blown sugar animals on sale at a stall in Jingli Street! No animals were harmed in the process of making these treats!

Sugar animals for sale, also at Jingli Street, a tourist attraction. The sugar animals were made using molasses poured over a flat surface.

Shadow puppets at Jingli Street.

Jingli Street, illuminated by lanterns at night.

Animated light displays at Tianfu Square. So this is what our coal-fired power plants were providing so much energy for!

Waiting for our food to arrive at Loving Hut Vegan Restaurant. Good thing we eat 3 hrs after the average Chinaman has dinner, so we had the cooks and waitresses all to ourselves. I stretched my linguistic abilities to the utmost in China as I had to play the role of translator to my friends from India.

Yeah, in case of emergency, evacuate the schematic drawing at all costs. To hell with your passports and valuables.

Another vegan restaurant that we loved very much and frequented for the entire week, located in Wenshu Monastery. The food was spicy and delicious.

Classical Chinese architecture in Wenshu Monastery. Check out the multi-inclined roofs!

An obliging Chinaman helped me take this photo. I went out to play with the temple cats within the compound of Wenshu Monastery while waiting for our food to arrive.

We ended up watching the Sichuan Opera on our second last night there. A bit like the noisy affairs we get every Seventh Month of the Lunar calendar. Only pricier.

The whole play, I was obsessing over what feathers those were (peacock? silver pheasant?) and how they were extracted from the bird. Once an animal activist, always an animal activist!

"Changing Faces", known in Mandarin as "Bian Lian". I used to be obsessed with lion dance and bian lian performances when I was young. Until I learned that most of the bian lian masks were made of silk. Poor silkworms!

Yearling pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research base. I felt sorry for them because their enclosures reminded me of the SPCA Sick Bay kennels.

Cheeky red pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Base. At least there is more enrichment in their enclosures.

Tian Tian, at age 20 (60 in human years), is a senior citizen at the Panda Breeding and Research Base.

With my buddies outside the main prayer hall in Wenshu Monastery. May we always continue to work towards improving the welfare and lives of animals everywhere!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Fly Me To The Moon Bears

UK expatriate, Jill Robinson MBE, founded the Animals Asia Foundation when she discovered how thousands of Asiatic black bears (a.k.a. Moon Bears) were being raised in factory farm conditions on Chinese bear bile farms (the bile is sold for use in traditional medicines). After years of tireless campaigning, the Moon Bear Rescue Centre was established in 2000 following an unprecedented agreement with the Chinese authorities to release 500 farmed bears. The Moon Bear Rescue Centre is open to the public, and visitors travel for miles to see the bears experience freedom after spending decades in tiny crush cages.

The delegates of the Asia for Animals Conference 2011 were privileged enough to be taken on a day tour of the Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, Sichuan. It was a moving and magical experience for all of us.

Moon bears may have to spend up till 30 years of their lives in small, cramped cages in unsanitary conditions for the bear bile trade. It is a myth that bears for the bile trade are raised in hygienic and comfortable conditions. Fresh food and water is rarely available and the conditions are unsafe, unsanitary and cruel.

Caged moon bears frequently bash their heads against the bars of their cages in an attempt to stimulate their intelligent minds.

Moon bears are made to wear metal jackets which crush their torsoes in order to facilitate the extraction of bear bile.

A legal breakthrough for Jill´s team. And this is how the Moon Bear Rescue Centre came to be...

Caged farm bears being transported to the sanctuary.

Veterinarians performing life saving surgery on rescued bears. The bears suffer a wide range of ailments and injuries in the bear bile farms and need immediate medical attention.

Living in cramped cages often result in extensive scarring.

RIP Little Mouse. I cannot get his gentle face out of my mind.

Thank you, dear readers of Daily Mail, for your generosity!

Bears kicking it at their clubhouse. Humans not invited.
Bears love to climb trees, and so the sanctuary staff have to install bamboo sheaths around the trees to prevent them from climbing certain trees. If the tree were to break, the bears might fall against the electric fence, or over the fence and into the enclosure of other bears, posing a safety threat.

One of the living quarters for the quarantined/ aggressive / antisocial bears. They will be let out on their own later when the other bears are inside. As you can see, this den is enriched with stimulating toys, too.

Dr. Monica, one of the chief veterinarians, briefing us upon arrival at the Rescue Centre.

What is bear bile used for?
To con gullible Chinamen into parting with their money, that's what. Pshaw.

Do we need bear bile?
We DON'T! There are better, safer, humane alternatives to bear bile!

Bear bile might be harmful to you! It's definitely harmful to the bears! Boycott the bear bile trade!

Farmed bears face not only physical but psychological trauma and this may present problems in the rehabilitation and reintegration process.

Ooooh, itchy! Skritch, skritch!

These friendly bears approached us for a closer look. I am amazed at their capacity for forgiveness and love, given the horrifying ordeal they had to go through in bear bile farms.

Another friendly and curious bear approaches us, much to our delight.

A moon bear conga line!

This sweet bear kept making clucking noises at us. Dr. Monica explained that this could indicate curiosity and friendliness. The bear didn't see us as a threat.

Bear playground -- perfect for a real-life Teddy Bears' Picnic!

Sowmnya and me and and bears in the background.

Sathya and me and bears in the background.

Strike a pose! What a handsome fellow this bear is!

To learn more about the Animals Asia Foundation, please visit their official website.

If you plan on visiting the Rescue Centre on your next trip to China, please click on this link.

For a map of the Rescue Centre, click here.

What Can You Do To Help End The Bear Bile Trade?

(i) Boycott bear bile products (no matter how low the percentage of authentic bile in the product) and advise your friends to do the same.

(ii) If you are recommended bear bile products while on tour abroad, decline firmly and politely. THEN send an email to the travel agency upon your return, expressing your displeasure and disappointment and expressing the hope that they will take that particular destination out of their future tour itinerary.

(iii) Do you know of any traditional Chinese medicine shops offering bear bile products? Then please report it to the Wildlife Crime Hotline at 019 356 4194 or Send them a text message or e-mail with particulars on the product sold, the location and address of the shop, and your contact information.

Together, we can put an end to cruelty.