Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Letter to the Editor: Stop Using Animals As Tools of Political Harassment


The abandonment of a sick and dehydrated live duck outside the Malaysiakini office on 25 Feb 2014 is just the latest incident in a long series of instances of animal cruelty as a form of political harassment and insult. It came after an incident where a dead chicken was left at the office of Seputeh MP Theresa Kok on 19 Feb, the protest against DAP leaders in which chickens were slaughtered and blood smeared on a banner, the killing and dressing up of a pig to insult a politician, the inflammatory “cow head protests” of 2009, and the hurling of pigs and pork into the compounds of houses of worship.

 Such acts of cruelty and disrespect for animal lives demonstrate the ignorance, thoughtlessness and inhumanity of the perpetrators. The perpetrators of these acts are clearly uncivilised and incapable of sophisticated and intelligent debate. What is more unacceptable is that such acts of animal cruelty as a method of political harassment are condoned by political and religious leaders, ostensibly on grounds that these are merely animal lives and no physical harm has been caused to humans.

All religions and ethical ideologies advocate stewardship of the environment and animals. From a human-centered point of view, the unnecessary killing of animals in order to insult or taunt others is a waste of resources at a time when many people are suffering from poverty and hunger. From a compassionate and biocentric point of view, the killing of these animals is cruel and indefensible. Animals are not and should not be made parties to our political and religious conflicts. Through these pointless killings of animals, we are also indirectly desensitizing people, especially the younger generation, to animal cruelty and violence, wherein causing pain and suffering to sentient beings is normalised and no longer becomes a cause for concern or source of grief.

There are some who will argue that the animals harmed in these incidents are domestic and farm animals that would be slaughtered and consumed in any event. However, just because they are not endangered species or someone's beloved companion animal does not mean that they are incapable of pain and suffering. All over the world, the agricultural industry is under pressure to institute better farming methods that would improve the welfare of farm animals and reduce suffering. The number of vegetarians and vegans worldwide is growing. Most developed and developing nations are implementing better animal protection laws and guidelines. Malaysia too has no shortage of animal rescue groups, welfare organisations and concerned people who are offended and distressed by the rising number of political animal sacrifices.

No politician or interest group that practices or excuses cruelty to animals deserves our support. Killing and hurting animals in order to antagonise one's political opponents indicates a depraved and sadistic mind. It stands to reason that a political leader who is dismissive towards animal lives is unlikely to be sympathetic or compassionate to his fellow humans or other living beings. Malaysians from both sides of the political divide must rise up and speak out against animal cruelty. The first step to becoming a more humane, responsive and caring society starts with you and me.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Letter to the Editor: Ensure Tour Operators Practice Ethical Firefly-Watching Methods


A Tourism Malaysia advertisement currently aired over most radio stations makes a commendable attempt at promoting nature tourism, including firefly-watching in Kuala Selangor. Although Green Living encourages low-impact sustainable ecotourism as a means of cultivating a love of nature and the environment, we have serious concerns about the practices utilised by some tour operators involved in firefly-watching excursions.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) members have complained that some local firefly-watching tour operators use flashlights and other artificial means to mimic the mating signals of congregating firefly populations in order to lure fireflies out towards the tourists in the boats. This disrupts the mating, feeding and resting patterns of the fireflies, and causes them to fly out into areas beyond their safe zones. The exhausted firelies, after circling around the boats and tourists in their futile search for a mate, then fall into the water and are eaten by fishes.

While insects are part of the normal food chain for fish and other animals, the fact that the fireflies are lured out to premature deaths, often before they have had the opportunity to mate and breed, means that firefly populations in such places will be depleted more quickly than they can recover.

Such unethical practices by tour operators directly contribute to the gradual extinction of fireflies. Congregating firefly zones in Malaysia, including in Kuala Selangor, Cherating and Kg. Dew, Taiping, are already under threat from large-scale plantations, aquaculture ponds, flood mitigation and river widening activities, illegal sand mining, clearing of river reserves, use of pesticides and poor waste management methods.

Most visitors who have been to these same firefly habitats 10-20 years ago can attest to the fact that firefly populations have dwindled drastically. Over the years, MNS has worked with local authorities, tour operators and local communities to educate and empower them in order that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to protect firefly habitats and populations.

Although it is a disappointment to know that unethical firefly-watching practices are still being carried out, it is not unforeseen as many tour operators prioritise short-term gains over durable and sustainable solutions. As non-governmental organisations have no enforcement powers, we urge the local authorities to inspect the way local tour operators conduct firefly-watching activities.

Consumers and tourists must also play their part in ensuring the survival of threatened species, including congregating fireflies such as the Pteroptyx tener. Consumers should conduct due diligence 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.

Basic firefly-watching etiquette include the following:
1. Do not shine your torch at or use flash photography on the fireflies. This will disrupt theirmating communications.
2. Enjoy the boat ride and avoid talking loudly, making unnecessary noise or smoking.
3. Enjoy the light show. Avoid catching the fireflies or disturbing the trees.
4. Please bring your litter out with you. Do not throw anything into the river.

Tourists and consumers must exercise their right to protest unethical practices by tour operators and hit them where it hurts the most -- their wallets. If at any point during the boat ride the tour operator simulates firefly mating signals using flashlights, please speak up and insist that they cease doing so immediately. State that you will report their unethical and harmful practices to environmental organisations, state tourism authorities and travel websites. Write unfavourable reviews in travel forums to bring their unethical practices to light.

It is our duty, as consumers, not to invest in cruelty, species extinction and environmental destruction. Responsible tourism begins with you and me.


(As at 21.2.2014, this letter has already been published in The Sun and the New Straits Times and Traxx FM has requested to use the Firefly Watching Etiquette tips in their radio PSAs.)

Monday, 10 February 2014

20 Acts of Lunar New Year Kindness

Lunar New Year has never been one of my favourite holidays.

I've never liked its crass commercialism and unabashed emphasis on wealth, prosperity and fortune. I don't enjoy the increased likelihood of family conflict and friction that holidays often bring. Seems to me like people cannot just be happy in and of themselves during a special occasion without adding stressors like shopping, overpriced dinners and trying to impress people they don't even like to make themselves miserable.

In recent years, however, thanks to social media, I am beginning to see a gradual shift towards emphasising values such as compassion, gratitude, loyalty, filial piety and friendship, over non-values such as the "May you get obscenely wealthy in an obscenely short time" messages we ethnic Chinese are routinely bombarded with around this time of the year.

And so this year, buoyed by the success of my 35 Birthday Acts of Kindness, I decided to start my own Lunar New Year tradition of performing 8 Random Acts of Kindness (8 being a lucky number for the Chinese) within the 15- 20 days of the Lunar New Year celebrations. The 8 acts easily turned into 20 acts, and they made my Lunar New Year the best to date.

So here are my 20, starting from the Saturday before Lunar New Year:

1. 19 Jan 2014:

Bathed and tickwashed all the SPCA dogs, including one horny Siberian Husky who was found wandering in the streets and had to be brought into the shelter. I finished off by cleaning the kennels and shelter floor.

2. 23 Jan 2014:
My best friend Nicole injured her back, and I know it's no fun being unable to do any heavy work during the busiest time of the year, so I banked in some money to her so she could hire someone to clean her house while she is undergoing chiropractic treatment for her injured back. That's the next best thing I could do since I was too busy to go over and help her with the housework and her cats and dogs.

3. 25 Jan 2014:
Heard from a colleague that our favourite office cleaner, Kak Salma, has been hospitalised for diabetes-related complications. My colleague started the ball rolling by carrying out a collection for her and I contributed money. I feel really bad about Kak Salma's medical issues and I don't even know if this should count as an act of kindness since whatever paltry sum we could give her really isn't enough to support her if she is unable to return to work. I will keep myself informed of her condition and future needs.

4. 26 Jan 2014:
The SPCA Bungalow compound was quite devoid of festive cheer because everyone was too busy with work to decorate, and so I repurposed a stack of used/unwanted red envelopes into ornaments for the garden and compound.

Before decorating:

After decorating:

5. 26 Jan 2014:
Helped out with animal care work and cleaning cat litter trays at the SPCA.

This friendly little poodle was abandoned outside our old shelter (which is currently under renovation) with a gaping wound, and so the SPCA staff took him in and provided medical treatment (Update: This little poodle was successfully rehomed on 8.2.2014)

Our SPCA cat caretaker, Kak Mazni, was helping me care for 2 of our street cats which we managed to trap for neutering and rehoming, but refused to receive monetary compensation from me. I know it is her job to clean the kennels, cattery and office so I decided to do it for her to relieve her of some of her heavier chores. Here I am, cheerfully mopping the office to give Kak Mazni a well-deserved break.

6. 26 Jan 2014:
More and more of our friends have expressed an interest in volunteering for ReachOut Malaysia, and on Saturday, Audrey joined a ReachOut food distribution run for the first time.

Aravind and I were given the responsibility of leading the group into Puduraya to distribute food and water and pet food.

Our street clients were mostly resting or asleep when we arrived to distribute food, water and clothes outside Bangkok Bank.

Our senior volunteer Melvin rendering First Aid treatment to a young street client who is living with his parents on the streets (Update: As at 8.2.2014, the family has been taken off the streets) .

7. 28 Jan 2014:
Sent out a glowing employment reference for B., who had been one of the junior colleagues under my supervision at work.

8. 29 Jan 2014:
Amber and I cleaned up our neighbourhood park and playground.

The picnic area had a lot of litter before we started cleaning up.

Amber helped by being a good sibling to me and a friendly neighbour to others.

The same area, all cleaned up!

9. 30 Jan 2014:

I mailed a birthday countdown parcel and Kindness Kit to my friend's son, Colin, for his 7th birthday. In the parcel, there are 7 smaller parcels. The small numbered packages each contain a useful or fun item (games, puzzle, arts and crafts kits in boys' themes) that a 7-year-old boy would like and he gets to open one each morning on the week leading up to his birthday. On the day of his birthday, he gets to open the card and parcel containing a Kindness Kit so that he can carry out Random Acts of Kindness on his birthday.

In the Kindness Kit, I have included notecards and instructions to deliver them to people who may need some cheering up or who he wishes to thank, stickers to hand out to other children, and cartoon band-aids to give out to someone who may need one. I would also get his mum to include a bin bag and child-size gloves so he can clean up a creek or forest trail, and cat food and dog food pouches and bottles of water for feeding hungry stray animals with.

10. 30 Jan 2014:
I met up with the Public Relations officers of the University Malaya Medical Centre to discuss a Mothers' Day project I have in mind for the children and mothers in the Paediatric ICU and Oncology wards, and since it was Lunar New Year Eve, I brought the officers a jar of pineapple tarts.

They were surprised both by the gift and by the fact that I am planning to carry out the Mothers' Day project solo and not as a part of any organisation or corporate body. It was a productive meeting, though, and I managed to recruit 10 other friends as volunteers via Facebook the same afternoon once official approval was obtained.

11. 31 Jan 2014:

Went to the pub after dinner and gave a jar of arrowroot chips (They're vegan! They're yummy! They go well with beer!) to our bartenders.

12. 1 Feb 2014:

Went out for the Saturday night ReachOut food run as usual under Pete's leadership, and my bestie Nicole joined us.

Our friends Jacinta and Moses contributed money for us to buy fruits for the homeless with, and we trundled over with a carload of oranges. It's great to have friends who are so supportive of the causes we volunteer for, and I like helping to match donors with beneficiaries and doing the delivery and execution for them.

13. 2 Feb 2014:

We still have a lot of dry dog food left over from the donation made by Keats, so I went to the industrial area and fed the junkyard stray dogs with the food. This act leaves me with mixed feelings, because I think stray feeders are a part of the problem, not the solution, unless they are actively spaying and neutering strays as well. These dogs are skittish and semi-feral and it is very difficult to catch them for spaying. I'm still trying.

14. 2 Feb 2014:
Our friend Poh Lin was disappointed that many of her friends were not in town during the festive season, but we told her to come out to dinner with us anyway even if there were only 4 of us (Poh Lin, Aravind, Nicole and me). We treated her to a belated birthday dinner at Vegelife, one of my favourite restaurants, and she was surprised and pleased.

15. 3 Feb 2014:
I am in the habit of handing out bottled water or cold drinks to street sweepers, council grass cutters and fuel station attendants.

Since it was the Lunar New Year, I bought a peanut snack and a bottle of ice lemon tea for the Bangladeshi fuel pump attendant at one of the stations I refuelled at. He was a little shy but appreciative and even wished me "Gong Xi Fa Chai". It's amazing how much of our language and culture migrant workers pick up within a short time.

16. 4 Feb 2014:

It's the final day of my Lunar New Year break and I spent the evening cleaning up the Kota Damansara Community Forest, which is the forest reserve that I have invested most time and energy in as a volunteer and advocate.

There were a few hikers and cyclists around. I picked up litter and cleared the trail.

Last hurrah before I go back to work the following day.

17. 5 Feb 2014:

We had our monthly branch committee meeting for the Malaysian Nature Society and somehow I found myself persuaded to volunteer to coordinate the newly set-up Mammals special interest group, on top of my usual Green Living, Eco Kids, committee and newsletter responsibilities.

I fully intend to hold proper and democratic elections to elect a coordinator when we have enough members in the special interest group, but right now I am willing to take on the responsibility of getting the group up and running and inviting wildlife and marine experts to give talks and hold workshops.

18. 8 Feb 2014:
Aravind and I donated blood at the National Blood Bank on Saturday afternoon.

When my Blood Donor booklet was stolen along with my backpack last Oct, I was quite crushed.

Thankfully, our helpful Blood Bank staff managed to retrieve records of 36 out of 45 donations and produced a new booklet for me. I'm very grateful for their help, the registration staff actually took the time to write down each entry by hand in my new booklet.

19. 8 Feb 2014:
Went for ReachOut as usual around midnight, this time with another 6 of our friends -- Liza, Illani, Rangamal, Audrey, Arthur and Yien. While waiting for the food to be delivered and for the other volunteers to arrive, I bought cans of coffee for the security guards at the car park where we normally gather. They are familiar with the regular volunteers by now and help to look out for our cars when we go across the street to the shops. Coffee is always a good thing to give to security guards because they need to stay awake. They were very appreciative and wished me a Happy Chinese New Year, which was nice.

20. 8 Feb 2014:

Our friends VJ and Saravanan prepared 22 packs of fried rice for our street clients, and we helped to deliver the food to our street clients. It was Rangamal's, Arthur's and Yien's first time as ReachOut volunteers.

This Year of The Horse, I hope we live our lives as though someone left the pasture gates wide open. I hope we shake off the blinkers and halters of prejudices, traditions and other people's expectations and opinions that prevent us from becoming our best selves. For we were all born to be wild, free and happy. May we all be our best selves. May we all do our best for our Planet, country and community.