Thursday, 1 April 2010

Animals have rights too

Thursday April 1, 2010

Animals have rights too

By HOI JACK S'NG The Star, Malaysia

MAN is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals – George Orwell, Animal Farm.

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it – Mark Twain, The Lowest Animal Man, as we would all readily admit, when conferred dominance and power, often misuse it. Cruelty towards animals is but another confirmation of this.

Endangered species are brutally poached and killed. Tigers tracked down for their fur and parts alleged to contain medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities. Elephants and walruses pursued for their ivory. Dolphins hunted for their meat.

Farm animals housed in profit-driven factories and slaughterhouses, their welfare ignored, are methodically fed and bred, sometimes leading to unnecessary suffering. Livestock are used as sources of power and for heavy labour, pushed past the point of exhaustion.

Wild animals held in captivity are treated as voyeuristic objects for our entertainment and not as living creatures, free to roam the world they inhabit. Little or no regulation by the relevant authorities results in harsh and inhumane living conditions.

Animal hunting is allowed for recreation and sport. The ritualistic killing involved in bullfighting, while both horrific and saddening, is made a public spectacle for the enjoyment of cheering crowds. Horse racing and greyhound racing, inextricably linked to the gambling business, is another cause for debate.

The testing of animals at laboratories and research facilities is common and controversial. Animals are also sacrificed and their cells, tissues or organs harvested for human use.
Some of you may squirm at these facts while others nonchalantly shrug their shoulders and wonder aloud, “What is all this fuss about animal rights and animal welfare?”

A month ago and right at our doorstep, the Perak Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) initiated investigations in connection with what they believed was a dreadful case of tiger poaching by a group of orang asli in Sungkai. There was also a separate report in respect of a dog pound under the control of the Selayang Municipal Council which had attracted lots of criticism for its poor and terrible living environment. In Johor, the Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar recently decreed the banning of hunting of wildlife.

This is not a demand for drastic lifestyle changes. This is a call for more awareness, more compassion, more action on the plight and suffering of animals at the hands of callous man.
Animals are a part of God’s wondrous design. Animals are not inferior beings. Animals are not property, things, or means to an end. Animals are sentient creatures, having the ability to experience pleasure and pain and thus entitled to some moral and legal rights. Even if we put aside our predisposition towards anthropomorphism, the sustained existence of certain species and the protection of animals in general are fundamental to the survival of planet Earth’s ecology. Both these movements, animal rights and the deep ecology, believe that all life has an inherent worth.

In Malaysia, the inherent worth of an animal is however judged by its monetary value. The Penal Code makes it a criminal offence to “(commit) mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming, or rendering useless, any animal or animals of the value of five dollars or upwards” or “an elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of RM25 or upwards”.

Although there are laws in place for the protection of animals in Malaysia, it is inadequate to cover the entire gamut of animal related rights and wrongs. The Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 where 783 species of wild animals, 1,578 species of wild birds and 40 species of insects are deemed protected or totally protected. The unlawful shooting, killing or taking of wildlife can attract criminal convictions leading to fines and imprisonment. Cruelty to wildlife is also a criminal offence.

The Animals Act 1953 provides for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, which implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was enacted to encourage the conservation of endangered species and prevent its exploitation through international trade.
New and forward-thinking legislation is needed for the protection of livestock kept for farming purposes and for slaughter. The Animals (Control of Slaughter) Rules 2009 does not legislate for the responsible maintenance of farming factories and slaughterhouses to ensure proper living conditions.

Also desirable are laws governing the keeping of domestic pets, the humane control of stray animals, the safeguarding of animals kept in zoos and any other legislation related to animal welfare to promote kindness towards animals. More effective enforcement and harsher penalties are crucial to stop the neglect and abuse of animals.

Animal-loving organisations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Paws Animal Welfare Society (Paws), Malaysia Nature Society, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Malaysia) and Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Society (Roar) are leading the way, fervently and unrelentingly, in lobbying for legislative change, creating awareness and educating the public.

The Government must eagerly engage these organisations in serious dialogue and action for the greater good. The relevant authorities must be swift and thorough in the exercise of their investigative and enforcement powers. We, ordinary Malaysians must wake up from our apathetic stupor and realise that we too have an important part to play.

Animals are our fellow creatures. We are dependent on them to survive as they are on us. There is no more time to lose and much to be done.

> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society.