Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Your living room is no home for wildlife

Malaysiakini 2nd December 2009

Your living room is no home for wildlife

We refer to the Malaysiakini report 'Pet' leopard, honey bear found in condo.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) compliments the Selangor Wildlife and National Parks Department for the recent seizure of wildlife in a condominium unit in Desa Pandan. However the fine of RM3,000 or a jail sentence of up to two years or both is dismal compared to the gravity of the crime which would not deter the duo from continuing with their fetish again.

SAM agrees with the department's deputy director that the case is only tip of the iceberg. It seems to be a craze now to keep wildlife as pets.

One can easily source for such wildlife just by logging onto the Internet or by scanning the classified sections of trading and specialist magazines or via a number of pet shops. Pet shops may not openly sell endangered species but they have the potential to source from dealers or by putting a customer in touch with a contact.

Many species targeted as pets are highly endangered and the desire to own these exotic animals is pushing them further towards the brink of extinction. And in addition every individual species, whether or not it belongs to an endangered category, will suffer as a result of this unethical trade.

Many people apparently fail to inform the authority of a 'dangerous' animal in their possession due to either ignorance on the part of the owner, or the unwillingness of the owner to subject themselves to the licensing process and the terms of the license, or the cost of the licence application. Thus the actual number of wildlife pets is unknown.

Of particular concern to conservationists is how the pet trade is adding to the problem of dwindling wildlife worldwide and the impact of this loss of diversity on their environments. It is not just the threat to wildlife in the wild that makes this trade so disturbing but also the effects on individual animals in captivity.

The lack of regulation in the pet trade of wild species would mean there is no guarantee of quality of care. Wild animals are not suitable as companions in the home in view of their obvious wild nature and behavior and specific dietary needs, requiring a huge, higher standard and longer duration of care than domesticated animals. Keeping such animals as pets is therefore morally unjustifiable.

The scale and nature of the trade in 'pet ownership' of endangered wildlife is an area which should be investigated. There are also considerable and very real concerns in relation to the welfare of wildlife kept in resorts and shockingly, a sole penguin kept in the pool of an executive suite in Kuala Lumpur as an added attraction.

For all these animals, little protection is afforded through the legislation governing the keeping of these individuals. Resorts are only capitalising on their captive wildlife by using them to entertain tourists and locals with unnatural animal performances and earning profits from such exploitation. Such shows are meaningless and an embarrassment to the country with many foreigners questioning the rationale for shows that go against the animals' natural behavior.

Moreover, the keeping of wildlife in resorts is merely an attempt to create a false impression that it is a noble cause that they are undertaking in that they are into conservation. But such facilities have no lofty goals of bio-diversity protection or other noble causes. It is simply a business that trades in cruelty.

The current legislative controls are incoherent and inadequate, resulting in loopholes open to abuse. There are inconsistencies in enforcement and ultimately serious concerns for the welfare and conservation of endangered wildlife species.

Prohibiting possession of endangered wildlife would greatly benefit enforcement efforts to combat the illegal trade in the range states and in those countries known to be transit routes for highly sought after wildlife.

This would in turn alleviate the pressure on wild populations and remove the welfare concerns associated with the trade. Enforcement of animal welfare and conservation regulations should be made a priority in wake of the proposed amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act.

Good legislation is vital, but can mean little without effective and well-resourced enforcement to back it up.

The writer is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia.