Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Tortured displays

The StarOnline Malaysia

Tuesday May 20, 2008

Tortured displays

MINI zoos, bird parks, reptile farms, butterfly farms, snake farms and theme parks with wildlife displays are proliferating and here again, the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 (PWA) has failed to keep up.

When complaints over poorly run parks and animal cruelty surface, Perhilitan’s oft-cited excuse is that it has little clout over these places because the PWA is silent on them and so, does not license them or dictate how animals should be displayed.

A Perhilitan official has previously said that guidelines on management of facilities with animal, insect and bird displays exist but the document is not legally binding.

It cannot be gazetted into an Order or Regulation – which would give it legal bite – because the PWA lacks provisions on zoos. The official also said that proving cruelty to wildlife – which carries a penalty of RM5,000 or five years’ imprisonment under the PWA – is difficult as the Act does not spell out what constitutes “cruelty”.

Such legal defects have led to the sad state of affairs in mini zoos and animal farms, where many have poor animal husbandry, keep animals in deplorable conditions and make them perform silly acts. Wildlife is also unsuitably displayed in shopping malls and public places.

Critics also protest the “special permits” allowed by the PWA, which sanctions the holders to kill, take, trade, keep or breed totally protected species. The mushrooming of animal farms has led to many applications for special permits to keep highly endangered wildlife such as the orang utan, tapir, slow loris, white-handed gibbon and serow.

Critics say the special permits make a mockery of the law and further fuels wildlife trade. Also, there appears to be little scrutiny over how the animals were sourced, used or kept. Abuses of the special permits surfaced in 2005 after two parks, A’Formosa and Johor Zoo, which both have valid special permits for orang utans, were found to have smuggled in the primates.