Thursday, 31 March 2016

Running Our Way Into the New Year

My initial plan at the beginning of 2015 was to usher in the New Year at a street party and then end the night with a gathering at the Wee Green Flat. I love the crowds and chaos at street parties, and this is something I could never adequately explain to the more introverted of my friends. I had been doing the same thing for years, attending the New Year countdown down at the neighbourhood pub, and in 2015 I wanted things to be different.
However, Mini-Me's illness and deterioration in December made me change my plans and ended all desire to celebrate. I wanted to just stay home and keep her company, and as such, made no arrangements to join my friends for the countdown festivities.
My fitness-inclined friends and fellow mentors from Care2Run, however, invited me to join them for a New Year's Eve run at Desa Parkcity, a few kilometers away from my flat. Prem Kumar persuaded me that it would be good for both me and Mini-Me that I go out for a run, and that as it would only be for a few hours, it would not gravely affect Mini-Me's well-being or heath. He even arranged for another mentor to drive over to pick me up to reduce the number of cars on the road. Thus convinced, I assented, and so after work on New Year's Eve, I showered and changed into my running gear, filled a small backpack with snacks, beverages, rubbish bags and a First Aid Kit, and made my way to the park with another mentor to join the others in our running group.

Thiyagu, Lauren, Nita, Mee Leng and I limbered up and stretched prior to beginning our 6-8 k.m. jog. 

Hari and family joined us, and we took a photo at the slope under the illuminated sign.

We ran around the park and lake. Many revellers were already there for the New Year countdown. Most people were dressed to the nines for the street party, and stared at our ragtag running group in surprise. 

We ran up a hill with a good view of the park and neighbourhood, spread out our picnic tarp, and lay out the food we brought. It turned out to be a really good place to watch the fireworks from.  

At the stroke of midnight, we could hear the muffled sounds of music and cheers from the crowd below, and pyrotechnics lit up the night sky.
We drank to each other's health and wished for a healthsome, positive and peaceful year for all.
Brothers Goutham and Jey linked arms to drink their sparkling apple juice.

We had a belated birthday celebration for Mee Leng but forgot to include Prem in the birthday song although his birthday was only a week ago.
Before we descended from the hill, Hari and I picked up litter left by other hikers and picnickers. I think my friends are getting used to my habit of taking rubbish bags and gardening gloves along with me everywhere by now. 

May we all beat our personal bests and have lots of wonderful adventures in 2016!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Night to Remember at the Sunway Putra Hotel

The weeks following Mini-Me's diagnosis and gradual deterioration were filled with a mixture of grief, despair, hope and plain fervid busyness. On the evening of 27th December, however, I received a phone call from the Marketing and Communications Dept of the newly opened Sunway Putra Hotel, formerly Legend Hotel located at The Mall, to inform me that Aravind had nominated me for their 'Time To Give' campaign and I was selected as one of the winners.
Apparently, Aravind wrote a whole bunch of things about my volunteer work and how much I deserve a break, and the kind panel of judges must have agreed with him because I found myself being invited to dinner and a one-night stay at the hotel.
Initially, I felt guilty about leaving the cats at home while I went out to get wined and dined, but thankfully, it was the end of the year and most office workers were still on Christmas break and there wasn't much work to be done so I could go home during lunch hour to see to the cats' needs and give Mini-Me her meds.
At 5 p.m., a car from the hotel arrived at my office gates and the valet ushered me with utmost courtesy to the car. I am used to doing everything for myself and others so I felt a little awkward about being treated like a VIP.
At the hotel, I was greeted by the staff as though I were an important guest and shown to my suite. I was allowed to invite a guest and of course I invited Aravind since he was the one who nominated me, as we are still good friends although we are no longer going out with each other.

I was given the keys to a 5-star suite for the night. It was enormous and very grand.


No, it's not a cobra. It's a beautiful towel swan, guarding my welcome macarons.

Dinner with a view, at Level 34.

I was escorted down to dinner and to meet the other winners of the contest. I look absolutely tired here but am pleased I didn't have to cook or clean. Aravind had informed them that I am vegetarian and the chef outdid himself with wonderful plant-based dishes.
Starting dinner with a delicious salad with apple dressing.

A 4-mushroom soup with portobello dumplings. It was delicious. I asked for seconds.
Scrumptilicious veg pasta with lots of vegetables. Right up my alley.

 Moist chocolate cake on a bed of pistachios and chocolate soil for dessert.

Time to gather in the lobby after dinner. There was a pianist playing Christmas songs and a massive Christmas tree and it was all very festive.

I was fascinated by this gingerbread house in the lobby. It is actually the temporary seasonal facade of the hotel bakery.

They actually had presents for us. I felt overwhelmed. I hadn't expected this. How do you even thank them for their kindness and generosity? Here I am, receiving my lovingly selected and labelled gift from the head of the Concierge Team.

A group photos of the winners for posterity. On my left is Ms. Praveena, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, who organised this campaign.
And my gift is a charming little green tea set from Ombak Bali! How did they know green is my favourite colour?
It was a very memorable and pleasant night, despite my worries over leaving Mini-Me and the other cats alone for the night. My heartfelt thanks to Aravind for nominating me and Sunway Putra Hotel for all their corporate social responsibility efforts and for sponsoring this lovely night out.

A little writeup on our sports mentoring programme

I have previously mentioned Care2Run, a sports mentoring programme I had recently become involved in. 

Sometime in December, my fellow mentors requested me to to write an article on it for publication in The Star, as one of the editors of the weekend pages had expressed an interest in our project and a willingness to run a story on it. This is the final draft, which was accepted for publication and was published on 23rd January 2016. The mentors and mentees were all very proud to have been featured, and although my involvement in the group has since reduced somewhat due to work commitments and time constraints, I still believe we have a really good thing going on here and I am glad the article generated enough interest that we managed to recruit more volunteers.

Care2Run, A Sports Mentoring Programme With A Difference
It was to be a lesson in empathy and teamwork.
THE teenage boys were surprised by the reversal of roles. The mentors they had looked up to as coaches had assumed the role of weaker, slower runners and the boys found themselves playing mentor instead.
Several were bashful and tongue-tied, and some were resentful at being slowed down as they believed their goal was to be the fastest. Most, however, jumped into their new roles with relish, supporting, encouraging and watching over their newly feeble charges.
One even used psychology, talking to his partner about footall to take his mind off the uphill climb.
At the meeting point at the top of the hill, the adult mentors provided open feedback on how the mentees performed as coaches without nagging, lecturing, or instructing them. The mentees learned from observing their mentors and each other, and the empathetic mentees were applauded.
On the run back down the hill, the mentees were noticeably gentler, more responsive and more thoughtful. The objective of the exercise was to prepare the mentees as running buddies for cancer survivors.
Welcome to Care2Run by Project H.O.P.E. (Healing Opportunities for People Everywhere), a volunteer-run sports outreach and mentoring programme with a difference, where corporate stalwarts, ordinary professionals and service organisations collaborate to enable both children and adults to achieve greater things through sports and outdoor activities.
Healing adventures

Three adventure and fitness enthusiasts, Prem Kumar Ramadas (a HR consultant by profession), Chia Mee Leng (a tax consultant) and Elgy Tan (a corporate lawyer) established the programme in 2014.
Since then, Project H.O.P.E. has benefitted over 150 children. Its pilot programme in December 2014 saw its team of volunteer mentors taking 60 children from different age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds to the Kota Damansara Community Forest, Petaling Jaya, to trek and take part in experiential games. For many of the children, it was their first time in an actual forest. Through the activities, the children were given the opportunity to think, create, connect and engage with one another and demonstrate teamwork.
The following excursion in September 2015, branded as the Coastal Obstacle Reconnaissance Experience (C.O.R.E.), saw 30 volunteers accompanying 40 participants and seven caretakers from the Women’s Aid Organisation and Prudential Welfare Home to explore the beach and mangrove forests of Pantai Cermin (near Port Dickson’s Blue Lagoon), where participants were given lessons in basic environmental awareness, natural history and astronomy.
The first-hand experience of trekking, handling and observing mangrove flora and fauna, cleaning up the beach and climbing up to the Cape Rachado lighthouse proved to be an empowering exercise for the participants.
Chia says Care2Run has given her the opportunity to bond with the children while training in the great outdoors.
“This brings out compassion and love which nurture my inner self before it does the children! Reminding the children of the do’s and don’ts also remind me to reflect deeply on whether I practise what we are preaching,” avers this senior accountant who has done numerous humanitarian and medical relief missions worldwide.

Rudhra Krishnasamy, Care2Run Game Master, relates his experience: "Sharing my love of running with these youngsters was a great experience and watching them improve from session to session was inspiring and gratifying. I'm really looking forward to the next series."
"Mentees observe good values demonstrated by mentors during activities and are inspired to follow suit. They learn in an environment that encourages good behaviour. It's like a family," reports Chong Yao Jung (YJ), Project HOPE Co-Founder and Care2Run Game Master.
The beneficiaries of the programme come from diverse backgrounds, and some come from children’s shelters and welfare homes.
They were enthusiastic when asked for their feedback. Jaswindran Kaveendar, 14, was hopeful that the programme will continue for many years: “It is really fun and we love it. Every Wednesday and Saturday, we wait for our mentors to come and pick us up. They are really cool people and we have fun when they teach us new things.”
"Care2Run programme has increased my confidence, taught me responsibility and unveiled my potential in sports. I am keen to join the programme again." enthused Hamzavilarosa bin Sainin, 13
Lau Wee En, 7, had this to say following the Fruity Fun Game session, which incorporates sports and nutrition education: “I eat more fruits now because it makes me stronger and also run faster than you.”
Role models

The latest mentoring programme, which commenced in October 2015, aspires to use sports as a platform to build character. The mentees get frequent lessons on being considerate, responsible and helpful.
Running workouts, games and hikes improve their physical strength and stamina, but it is the lessons imparted and desirable behaviour modelled by the mentors, all working professionals who carve out time each week to volunteer with this programme, that will ultimately inculcate good values in the youngsters.
Running was chosen as the preferred sport because it is inclusive, and no one is left on the bench. It also needs very little equipment or resources compared to other sports.
By holding weeknight sessions on the hallowed grounds of Universiti Malaya, the mentors also hope to inspire academic ambition in the youngsters.
“One day,” the youngsters are told, “You could end up studying here or other leading universities. Work hard. Never give up on your dreams. See yourself as a winner and a leader.”
The mentors play the role of older siblings, guardians and coaches, not only pairing up with mentees during activities but also driving them to and from activities, ensuring they are well-hydrated and not running on an empty stomach, taking them to shop for proper footwear, securing sponsorship, and providing counselling, feedback and advice when requested.
Values driven home to the mentees with each session include:
-Celebrate each other’s successes.
-Take responsibility for your own faults and shortcomings.
-Work as a team. Encourage and support others.
-Being helpful and polite is the responsible and grownup thing to do.
-Speak kindly and positively to one another.
-Take care of your environment and surroundings.
Mentors lead the way in assisting and encouraging others, cleaning up after activities and ensuring that health and safety protocols are met.
The real test of the effectiveness of the mentoring programme arrived at our first group race, the Blue Cap Relay for Prostate Cancer, held at Universiti Malaya on Nov 29, 2015. The morning, admittedly, did not get off to a perfect start. Some mentees were tardy, some had overslept, and some of the teens were in such high spirits that they started roughhousing each other. The younger children had an attack of the nerves and some started crying. But as the day went on, the mentees all rose to the occasion, and the lessons learned in all those weeks of training kicked in.
The teens ran alongside their mentors and companions, shouting words of encouragement. They observed their mentors cheering the elderly, the differently-abled, and young children, and did the same, bashfully and awkwardly at first, but with more gusto and conviction as more runners started approaching the finish line.
When the younger children crossed the finish line, some were in tears after tripping and stumbling. However, for most of the children (and even adults!), upon receiving their first ever finishers’ medals, beamed proudly and nodded when asked if they would do the run again, having internalised a lesson about finishing what one started and not giving up even when tired.
After lunch, the mentees helped to clean up the event site and picked up litter as a lesson in responsibility, gratitude and leaving things in a better state than when they found it.
Project H.O.P.E also won three race trophies – for the Cancer Survivor, 50s and Mixed Age Female categories, victories which would certainly inspire the mentees to continue with the programme and set greater goals for themselves.
The success of this programme relies heavily on the availability of reliable mentors and sponsors. We welcome more volunteers to join us so that we include more children in our project. Interested individuals are invited to apply via email and fill in a basic questionnaire. Volunteers are required to attend four sessions of mentoring training beginning Jan 30 (Saturday).
They will be further vetted by senior mentors for suitability as role models and mentors, before the next eight-week programme for children aged 8–17 resumes on March 5. For volunteering and funding inquiries, visit, or contact

Monday, 28 March 2016

A Bittersweet Christmas

Christmas 2015 was a bittersweet one. It took me a long time to be able to go through these photos again. It was Mini-Me's last Christmas with us, although I didn't know it yet then.
We observed Christmas at the Wee Green Flat around 2 months after Mini-Me's cancer diagnosis. I have always wanted to celebrate a low-key Christmas in my own home, with my cats and best friends, in the most environmentally and socially responsible way possible. 2015 was the year it finally happened, and my cats and I were contented in our tidy little home together.
When Christmas rolled around, Mini-Me had already undergone surgery to remove her oral tumour. She was active and had a good appetite. I had expected her to live for at least a few years more. She was, after all, only 8 years old.
I was fostering another 2 rescued cats under my Project Second Chance then -- Zeya and Mac. Both had undergone the ELISA snap test and had been dewormed, vaccinated and neutered. They were former strays and I was getting them used to living indoors with a family.



(Note: They have since been rehomed to a good family)
I had spent several days making simple handmade decorations for the Wee Green Flat, and gifts for my Rowdies as well as for Paisley and Horlicks, who are living with Aravind.

I love the look on the faces of my Rowdies when I presented them with their shared gifts -- a gingerbread house I made with a sturdy document box, and an entire tray of organic wheatgrass.

Mini-Me was as excited about her new playhouse as the others. She remained curious, affectionate and active until pretty much the end of her life in February 2016.

The cats took turns to explore the gingerbread house. I had spent at least half an hour after work each night for 3-4 nights working on the gingerbread houses (the other one was given to Paisley and Horlicks).

I cut out round windows for them to look out of. I figured it was the sort of thing a cat would love --- a safe box to sit in, with windows that are big enough for them to look out of, but not big enough for another cat or stranger to pounce in from. I used paper masking tape to cover the rough edges of the holes I cut out of the box to make the box last longer, and then taped the decorative accents over the holes. 
It was a lovely Meowy Christmas. But I still cannot look back on it without feeling a pang of grief.
I would like to think that Mini-Me had a lovely Christmas and had enjoyed playing with her Christmas gifts.
I would like to think that she knows how much I love her. I am sure she did.
Her deterioration began only after Christmas, so we did get to make some happy memories together.
The only thing I can do to deal with my grief and sense of loss is to remind myself that I give all my babies the best care I can afford, and I will continue helping as many animals as I can that they have a better chance of living a life of quality.
A bittersweet Christmas is better than none.

Friday, 25 March 2016

So this sorta kinda happened...

Sometime in October 2015, I was contacted by Altel Communications for an interview for their Unsung Heroes campaign.
Understandably, their request left me feeling surprised and humbled but also elated. I have seen some of their social media campaigns on YouTube and Facebook, and I had not expected to be contacted to be interviewed as a volunteer.
The interview went really well and the communications and events team that executed the campaign is made up of such warm and sincere people that I could not help but feel at ease immediately.
In answer to their question: "How do you feel about being selected to be a Malaysian Hero by Altel?", I had this to say:
"Being recognised for one's contributions is always an honour and a privilege, but to me the greatest reward and recognition is witnessing the positive impact of my actions and initiatives. Seeing a rescued animal being adopted by a good family, watching the children I teach and mentor progress and improve and grow in their confidence, watching an organisation flourish and attract more volunteers and activists and having homeless friends come up to us and tell us that they have found a new job and will be moving into a rented apartment soon -- these are the rewards we reap everyday as volunteers."
I wasn't initially sure whether they were going to make a Facebook post or YouTube video about the work I do as a volunteer, but I was informed that I would be featured in their Corporate Calendar to be distributed to their subscribers, clients and associates. Several thousands of these calendars would be distributed all over the country, and me -- Little Old Me! -- was going to be featured in the month of September.
The photoshoot took place at the SPCA shelter and everything went swimmingly. I had obtained the prior authorisation of the SPCA Chair, Christine, for the photoshoot to take place there. Christine cracked me up when she offered this piece of unsolicited advice to the photographers and interviewers:
"Ee Lynn does everything! You want to interview someone who helps animals, the environment, children, women, the homeless, just ask her! You get all your questions answered. It's all in one package."
I was interviewed not only for my contributions as an animal shelter volunteer, advocate and rescuer, but also in my capacity as a volunteer for other causes.
A couple of months went by and I pretty much forgot about the calendar and campaign because I was so preoccupied with work and volunteering. And then December rolled along, and I received an email inviting me to the launch of the calendar. Wow, that sounds serious! And posh! 
Thankfully it was almost the end of the year and there wasn't that much work to be done. Many of my bosses were already on their year-end vacations, so I could sneak out for a long lunch and attend at least an hour of the launch.
There were many other familiar faces at the launch. Most of the volunteers and activists move in the same circles. Old friendships were rekindled and new friends made. And true to our nature, once we got to know each other, we started offering to help with each other's causes.

We were heartily welcomed by the management of Altel and they introduced each of us and our causes, as well as the Unsung Heroes campaign, through a video presentation.
It was inspiring to see the work done by all the good kind people without expectation of reward or recognition.

Little old me on that big screen there. I can hardly believe it. I don't feel particularly deserving. But am grateful all the same.
We were informed that there would be an allocation for a project to be carried out for our chosen causes for the months in which each of us are featured, as part of Altel's corporate social responsibility intitiative. When I talked about my plans of getting the Altel staff to accompany the children I mentor and teach to volunteer at the Turtle Information and Conservation Centre in Masjid Tanah this year, it generated a lot of interest and many of the other volunteers wanted to join in. We would be mentoring underprivileged children and getting them to volunteer! And we would be helping endangered species and the environment! Who wouldn't want to go on such an adventure? I foresee we may have to charter two buses to transport everyone there in September.

This was followed by a laughter-filled photoshoot while holding up the official banner.

We were each offered 300 copies of the calendars but I only needed 30 - 50. I took my time going through each page. The write-up about me was beautiful. I had a lump in my throat reading it when I finally received a copy of the calendar.

I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt appreciation to Altel for bringing us volunteers and activists together, and creating an opportunity for us to promote our causes and recruit other volunteers and supporters through this awareness campaign.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Farewell, my darling Mini-Me

(Mini-Me, April 2008 - February 2016)

I haven't had the motivation or inclination to blog after the demise of my beautiful little Mini-Me. The past 12 months has been one personal tragedy after another. I lost 3 of my cats to illness in just 12 months. What could I have done wrong? They have all been neutered and vaccinated, and all my new rescues go through medical screening and full vaccination before they enter my home. They eat the best food I can afford and are shipped off to the vet at the slightest sign of illness and discomfort. They are all indoor cats and I take the greatest precautions to ensure their health and safety. I love them all so very much and a part of me dies with them each time I bid them goodbye.
Mini-Me is so named because she is a miniature version of her mother, Keisha. Keisha was a heavily pregnant calico cat who I rescued out of the dustbin of the Shah Alam Court canteen in April 2008. I made a nesting box for Keisha and allowed her to give birth in my home. Mini-Me was born in a large cage in my porch together with 4 other siblings, including Shadow, two days after I rescued Keisha.
As a kitten, Mini-Me had some health issues. When she was admitted to the vet for aspiration pneumonia, I made a promise to her that if she pulled through, I would never give her up for adoption. I have never regretted that decision. She was the most perfect cat I could ever ask for -- gentle and affectionate, with soft fur and a soft mewing voice. It pains me to think that I will never hear her mew or touch her soft fur again.
Mini-Me was never very strong. She suffered from frequent wheezing and rhinitis. Still, our 8 years together were largely happy and trouble-free ones. She slept on my pillow next to me every night. Together with the other cats, she received treats, health supplements, birthday presents, toys to keep things interesting and anything I could think of that could improve my feline children's quality of life.
Sometime after our Halloween party at the Wee Green Flat, I noticed that Mini-Me suffered from worse rhinitis than usual. I took her to the vet and she was prescribed flu medication. She seemed to improve for some time and then her illness recurred again in November. I asked the good doctor to give her a full medical check up, especially since Mini-Me was drooling and didn't seem able to keep her tongue in her mouth.
 The prognosis was dire. Mini-Me was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of benign cancer. It was benign only because the cancer cells didn't metastasize to other organs, but it was deadly enough as it is. We immediately arranged for surgery and had a huge tumour removed from her upper jaw. There are no veterinary hospitals offering chemotherapy or radiotherary in Malaysia, and even if there were one, medical reports show that it would not significantly improve her life expectancy or quality of life. She would not be able to eat normally after chemo anyway.
I took her home and monitored her progress, feeding her painkillers and anti-inflammation medication daily to manage the pain and swelling, and herbal supplements to boost her immune system. She enjoyed a happy and peaceful Christmas at the Wee Green Flat with the others. She was able to eat her favourite foods and play with the scratching post and new toys I made for them.
In January, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and no treatment, supplement or medication could offer a chance of recovery. I sought the medical opinion of other vets and caregivers and the advice was pretty much the same -- manage the pain and keep her comfortable. Every day began and ended in a flood of tears as I began the process of saying goodbye to my beloved feline daughter, for that is what cancer is -- a long goodbye.
Mini-Me died peacefully in my arms in the morning of 8 February 2016. If Heaven exists, then I believe she is now reunited with her brother Shadow. I miss both terribly and wish things had been different. I wish there was something I could have done to save their lives.
Following Mini-Me's death, I set up a Mini-Me Memorial Fund to help another 5 animals in her honour (a reasonable and achievable target since I am not rolling in wealth), just as I had for Shadow and Chloe. Their memories live on in my home and my heart, and in the hearts of all they have known and touched in their quiet little lives.
Not a day goes by that I do not think of them and miss them and wish things had been different. The grief never really goes away but forms part of my memories and experiences.
I hope I have done right by you, my little Mini-Me. I am sorry I could not take away your pain and suffering. I love you. We will share a pillow again and I will be able to feed you treats again in another lifetime.

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Mission Accomplished

Too many things going on in my life, and no opportunity to blog about all of it. Still trying to keep up with my goal of reading 52 books in 2016, as I had in 2015. I actually surpassed my goal of reading 52 books in 2015. List of books I read in 2015 as follows. 

1. The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad 
2.  The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne 
3. The Comedy of  Errors - William Shakespeare 
4. This Side of Paradise - F.  Scott Fitzgerald 
5. The Winter's Tale - William Shakespeare 
6. Anthony and Cleopatra - William Shakespeare 
7. No Logo -  Naomi Klein 
8. Coriolanus - William Shakespeare 
9. Love's  Labour's Lost - William Shakespeare 
10. Company Meetings: Law and Practice in Malaysia -- Priscilla PY Yap 
11. Beyond Good and Evil -- Friedrich Nietzsche 
12. The Merry Wives of Windsor -- Shakespeare 
13. The Dhammapada, translated by F. Max Muller 
14. The Two Gentlemen of Verona -- Shakespeare 
15. Twelve Years A Slave -- Solomon Northup 
16. The General and Special Theories of Relativity -- Albert Einstein 
17. The Last of the Mohicans -- James Fenimoore Cooper 
18. Anthem -- Ayn Rand 
19. At Home -- Bill Bryson 
20. Gulliver's Travels -- Jonathan Swift 
21. The Riddle of the Sands -- Erskine Childers 
22. The  Island of Sheep -- John Buchan 
23. The Moonstone -- Wilkie Collins 
24. Palms of Controversies: Oil Palm & Development Challenges -- Alain Rival and Patrice Levang 
25. Walden -- Henry David Thoreau 
26. Siddhartha -- Herman  Hesse 
27. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined -- Steven Pinker 
28. The Golden Age -- Kenneth  Graham 
29. The Art of War -- Sun-Tzu 
30. Diary of A Nobody --  George and Weedon Grossmith 
31. Greenmantle -- John Buchan 
 32. The Origin of the Species -- Charles Darwin 
33. She -- H. Rider Haggard 
34. The Pilgrim's Progress -- William Shakespeare 
35. The Life and Death of King John -- William Shakespeare 
36. Tao Te Qing -- Lao Tzu 
37. 12 Steps To A Compassionate Life -- Karen Armstrong 
38. The Portable Atheist -- Christopher Hitchens 
39. What Should We Be Worried About: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night -- Edited by John Brockman 
40. Some Turns of Thought -- George Santayana 
41. The Valley of Fear -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
42. American Standard Version Bible, Book of Genesis. 
43. The Enemy of the People -- Henrik Ibsen 
44. Civil Disobedience -- Henry David Thoreau 
45. The Mystery of Cloomber -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
46. We Can Be Heroes -- Catherine Bruton 
47. Bhagavad Gita 
48. War of the Worlds -- HG Wells 
49. Pericles, Prince of Tyre -- William Shakespeare 
50. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare -- G.K. Chesterton 
51. Dear Enemy -- Jean Webster 
52. The Lost Continent -- Edgar Rice Burroughs 
53. The Home and The World -- Rabindranath Tagore 
54. The Mystery of the Yellow Room -- Gaston Leroux 
55. The Prince -- Niccolo Machiavelli 
56. My Man Jeeves -- PG Wodehouse 
57. Deliverance -- AJ Adams 
58. The Age of Reason -- Thomas Paine 
59. This Explains Everything: 150 Deep, Beautiful and Elegant Theories of How The World Works -- Edited by Jon Brockman 
60. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic -- Oliver James

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Letter to the Editor: Everyone Has A Role To Play In Ending The Exotic Pet Trade


The theme for World Wildlife Day this year, which fell on March 3, is “The Future of Wildlife Is In Our Hands”. This call to action is a timely and necessary one in Malaysia, which has the unfortunate reputation as a hub for wildlife trafficking and the illegal wildlife trade. The Star’s recent exposé of how wildlife traders use social media for the illegal trade of protected species demonstrate that illegal wildlife trade continues to thrive in Malaysia despite the fact that the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and Animal Welfare Act 2015 have been given statutory footing. 

 Judging by the comments in social media, it is clear that many Malaysians are not aware of, or are indifferent to, the suffering of wildlife traded as pets. Local celebrities and political personalities are among the individuals known to have purchased and kept protected species as companion animals. Comments from social media users are largely encouraging and envious, with many expressing the desire to purchase similar animals due to their beauty and the fact that exotic pets are seen as status symbols. 

Among the reasons given by wildlife traders and owners to justify the keeping of exotic pets are as follows: 
(i) That since the animals’ natural habitats have already been destroyed, they have no homes to return to, or since their mothers have been killed, the young have no way of surviving in the wild, and therefore keeping them in captivity as companion animals is the humane thing to do. 
(ii) That the animals were bred in captivity and are therefore used to captivity and are dependent on humans. 
(iii) That they genuinely love animals and regard their exotic pets as family members, and therefore oppose any attempt to restrict their ‘right’ to acquire and keep these wild animals or to remove existing exotic pets from their care. 
(iv) That there is virtually no difference between keeping wildlife and keeping dogs, cats and other domestic animals as companion animals. 
(v) That keeping wildlife in captivity and as pets can prevent a species from going extinct. 

However, there are many scientifically-proven reasons why wildlife should not be in captivity and why the wildlife pet trade is a threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and human health and safety. The wildlife trade threatens both biodiversity and individual animals being traded. Nor is wildlife trade a minor problem, with only a handful of people keeping wildlife as exotic pets. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society reports that reports that the threat of extinction of wildlife species due to the wildlife trade is a very real and immediate problem, as the wildlife trade, which is valued to be approximately USD8 billion annually, is surpassed in scale only by the illegal trade in drugs and arms. 

Many exotic species advertised as ‘captive bred’ are actually poached from the wild, since DNA testing cannot reveal whether an animal was raised in captivity or in the wild, and most consumers and laypersons are unable to tell the difference and uninterested in finding out, as long as they get to acquire a particular animal as an exotic pet. Captive breeding of wildlife is an expensive and frequently unsuccessful business, and often traders and poachers find it easier and cheaper to capture animals from their native habitats and then pass them off as captive-bred for licensing purposes or to assuage the guilt of customers. 

Wild animals, especially wild cat hybrids such as Bengal cats (i.e. Asian leopard cat and domestic cat hybrids) and serval and caracal hybrids are unsuited to indoor life and have been known to attack and seriously injure their human handlers and other pets. Even if captive bred, hybrid cats that escape or are allowed to roam become prolific hunters, killing native birds and wildlife and smaller mammals including pet dogs, cats and rabbits. Pet snakes, which are frequently abandoned once their human handlers tire of them, also end up killing birds and other wildlife. Released or abandoned turtles, including the red-eared slider turtle, may carry the salmonella virus and threaten the health of humans and other species. Any released or escaped introduced species will compete with native species for food and territory and cause imbalance in the local ecology. 

Many animals die of shock, stress, illness and injury during capture, transportation, transit and captivity. Baby turtles are sealed shut in their shells for transportation. Slow lorises have their teeth and claws clipped without anaesthesia. Many die due to a lack of treatment, and slow loris populations in the wild are in rapid decline due to the high demand for slow lorises as pets after popular YouTube videos show them being kept as amusing companions. All 8 species of slow lorises are now threatened, and the Javan slow loris is now one of 25 the most endangered primates worldwide. Birds, especially parrots, are sedated and have their beaks cut or taped up, legs bound and wings clipped or tied. Most are sedated and stuffed into bags or cardboard mailer tubes. The Animal Law Coalition reports that 60% of wild-caught birds do not survive to reach their destinations. 

Contrary to the claim that people who acquire exotic pets do so because they love the said animals and are able to care for them, many exotic pets often end up being released, surrendered to zoos and animal shelters, abandoned or unintentionally killed due to ignorance and neglect. The Humane Society reports that many pet snakes do not live past one year due to inadequate nutrition. Many animal welfare organisations and veterinarians can also attest to the fact that exotic pets, especially small animals such as hedgehogs, chinchillas and chipmunks, die from being improperly and roughly handled, especially by children. 

Keeping wildlife as pets can also endanger human health and safety. Scorpions, snakes and other venomous or poisonous animals are unlike domestic mammals and do not enjoy human contact. There are many reports of people being killed or severely injured by their pet snakes and scorpions. Wild cats, sun bears and macaques can maul and cause grievous injury to their human handlers. Monkeys, including macaques, can carry and spread viruses to humans, including the Herpes-B virus. Lizards and turtles carry the salmonella virus, which can be fatal to humans. Birds, especially parrots, can spread parrot fever and pneumonia, especially through the inhalation of their dry droppings in a cage or aviary. 

The only true way to show love and admiration for a particular species is to protect their habitats and wild populations and observe them in their natural environments. Contrary to the popular argument by exotic pet enthusiasts that they can ‘learn’ a lot about a species by acquiring and keeping them, there is not much to be learned from keeping wild animals indoors confined to small tanks, cages and enclosures, away from members of their own species. 

Cats and dogs are different from exotic pets in that they have become dependent on humans for their physical, social and emotional needs through 5,000 – 30,000 years of selective breeding and evolution. Even so, cats, dogs and other domestic animals still need exercise, outdoor time, opportunities to play and engage in behavior natural to their species, and the companionship of their own kind. This need is even greater in wild animals that undergo extreme stress from being confined and handled by humans. 

People who acquire exotic animals usually do so for their own egos and short-term enjoyment, not because they genuinely care for the welfare and continuance of the species. They have no realistic plans on how to rehabilitate their exotic pets, return them to their native countries or environment or reintroduce them into the wild. Numerous studies, including by the UK Royal Society, have shown that wild populations are less likely to mate with a captive member of the species, and as such the claim that the captive breeding of exotic pets can restore wildlife populations has no scientific merit. 

Despite the existence of laws such as the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, there are very few regulations in place making it difficult for people to purchase, acquire, or keep exotic animals, especially when proper licenses have been obtained. Also, the international wildlife trade involves a multi-million dollar organised crime network, and poorly-funded, shorthanded government agencies are no match for wildlife traders. Bribery, corruption and plain incompetence makes it difficult for many developing countries to stop the illegal wildlife trade. 

Wildlife conservation groups and enforcement agencies in Malaysia rely heavily on ordinary citizens and travelers to be their eyes and ears. However, due to manpower concerns, not all reports can be acted on expediently. It may seem blindingly obvious to social media users that enforcement agencies should just ‘call up the number on the Facebook page and catch the offenders’. However, wildlife traders often stay one step ahead and make their movements difficult to trace by using unregistered prepaid mobile phone numbers and ensuring payment is made in advance before the animal changes hands. In order to aid conservation groups and enforcement agencies, those who wish to report wildlife crime must be vigilant and relay accurate information, such as the species, address, photographic and documentary evidence and contact information, as well as be available to be contacted. Reports can be made through Perhilitan’s official website or through their Careline at 1300-80-10-10, or to the 24-Hour NGO-run Wildlife Crime Hotline at 019 356 4194. 

As consumers and social media users, we must remember that our actions have consequences. Conservation groups and enforcement agencies need our assistance, support and awareness in order to be able to execute their responsibilities effectively. 

When we click ‘like’ on or share photos and videos of wildlife being kept as pets and in captivity, we are condoning, enabling and encouraging the wildlife and exotic pet trade. We are normalising the practice of poaching, abusing, exploiting and confining wildlife. Instead, we should raise awareness and in our social media comments, draw attention to the threats to wildlife populations, and other animal welfare and safety concerns. Monkeys and apes that appear to be grinning or yawning are not trying to entertain humans, but are showing aggression and fear. For every slow loris holding an umbrella or a toy, 7-8 others probably died during capture and transportation. We should therefore advise friends and family against purchasing or acquiring exotic pets, and persuade them to adopt from local animal shelters or to visit and support sanctuaries and rescue organisations instead. 

Nature-lovers who enjoy watching and photographing wildlife must take extra care not to unwittingly disclose the location of endangered species, including the nests of birds and location of trapdoor spiders, frogs, scorpions and other small animals on social media, which could lead poachers and wildlife traders to them. 

We vote every day with our money, and so as people who claim to love animals and the environment, we should not purchase exotic pets or wildlife products such as elephant ivory or crocodile and snake leather. We should not patronise circuses, petting zoos and amusement parks which keep wildlife in captivity or harm and exploit animals. We should avoid shopping at pet stores that sell exotic pets, and should lodge reports on the sales of wildlife to Perhilitan or wildlife conservation groups that can assist in investigating and acting on our reports. 

Ending the wildlife trade is not the role of government enforcement agencies alone. The loss of biodiversity, ecological imbalance and threats to human and animal health and safety affect all of us. We all have a role to play in protecting wildlife and reducing the demand for exotic pets. Keeping wildlife as exotic pets should not be a status symbol, but a symbol of self-deception, ignorance, selfishness and vanity.