Initial findings conducted by SAM and FOTO over the last 6 months, into the state of the zoos, mini zoos, aviaries and animal parks across Malaysia reveal that these animal establishments are not meeting their legal obligations.
Since December 2011, all zoos in Malaysia have been required to meet the basic requirements of the newly introduced (and operative) Wildlife Conservation Act through a licensing and inspection process, implement a series of measures that oblige zoos to conserve biodiversity, educate the public and maintain their animals in conditions appropriate to individual species needs.
Backed by the evidence of hundreds of photographs of animal misery, these pictures speak volumes of the inadequacy of such animal establishments equip themselves with knowledge or the commitment to look into and maintain their animals in conditions that meet their species-specific needs. Due to the lack of enforcement, many animals have had to suffer over the years at the hands of zoo operators whose main purpose is to make money. When a zoo is facing issues with resources, again, animals suffer. This has resulted in zoochosis (mental illness caused due to stress of captivity) in many of the animals we have come across during investigations.
These findings revealed the systemic failure of government, authorities and the enforcement agencies to ensure that Malaysian zoos meet their legal obligations to species conservation, education and animal welfare.
Zoos must be responsible and keep animals in conditions that satisfy their social behavioural and biological needs, meet exacting standards of housing, husbandry, welfare and health for their hundreds of inhabitants. It will be interesting to see how places like Animal World Safari in A’famosa Resort Melaka and Perlis Snake & Reptile Farm change, if at all, because recent investigations reveal most zoos have yet to comply with the new wildlife law. The fact that Perhilitan have given zoos six months to comply with the new law tells us that massive changes are needed for zoos to clean up their act. Nevertheless, if a zoo is currently carrying out activities which abuse an animal, it should be stopped as soon as the abuse is revealed, there should be no such thing as a ‘grace period’ for animal abuse. We also hope there will be no extension to the grace period given to all zoo operators. We still see no changes in most bad zoos which have been revealed. What is unquestionable is that the majority of zoos are run for profit with little or no educational or conservation value.
The problem is not about setting deadlines, it is having the will to enforce them. The efficacy of enforcement action under any law that fails to lead to successful prosecutions after a long time should be brought into question if offences persist under the legislation.
Prosecutions not only work as a deterrent for future offences, but also help to set case law precedent to inform future legal proceedings and thus facilitate ongoing enforcement. These findings serve as an important reminder that the existence of rules and regulations has little meaning if coupled with a failure to ensure that they are followed.
While SAM is grateful for the few zoo closures in the past, it is concerned that Perhilitan have not fully enforced the law at other zoos by acting swiftly and prosecuting those responsible without fear or favour. Despite numerous complaints and reports on inhumane treatment of wildlife and calls for action against irresponsible zoos little has really changed in this regard.
The effort devoted by many zoos to captive breeding is not made at the expense of efforts to save wild habitats. On the contrary it contributes to them by focusing people’s attention on the need to take such action for the ultimate goal of captive breeding as the reintroduction of endangered species to the wild. How then can they claim that they are able to have saved a habitat unless we can demonstrate that it is able to support its natural inhabitants?
Taking all these into consideration the question is whether we still need zoos. SAM has repeatedly questioned the need for opening of new zoos. Perhilitan must cease issuing license for new zoos to be opened until existing awful ones either improve dramatically or shutdown if they are unable to meet the requirements of the law.
Furthermore, we urgently need to know from Perhilitan what plans they have for the relocation of animals confiscated from zoos. If not done with care and total transparency it will surely lead to more problems.
Our neighbours in Singapore have one world-class zoo while Malaysia has 44 zoos ranging from disgusting to maybe one approaching good. Why would this be and what does it say about the NRE and Perhilitan’s ability and competence to enforce high standards as well as the law? Besides, there are at least 50 individual formal reports including those on animal cruelty in zoos which are yet to be answered by the ministry.
Now we wait to see if the NRE and Perhilitan will ‘walk their talk’ or, as most expect, nothing will change or improve.
Media Statement – 26 June 2012