Electrocution of Elephant Should Not Be Taken Lightly

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is astounded at the death of yet another wild elephant in Gerik, Perak. The incident occurred on January 3rd when a 40 year old female elephant was electrocuted by a live wire on a construction site.

The herd of elephants come into populated areas foraging for food.  These pachyderms have lost their natural habitats due to  extensive and uncontrolled land clearance leading to increasingly fragmented habitats.  According to an elephant expert,  suitable habitat is lost when roads are built that traverse grasslands and bring automobile traffic.

SAM, NGOs, and members of the community have expressed concern on several occasions over the number of roadkill deaths  of elephants and other endangered species,   but it appears that the Malaysian Highway authorities have not considered addressing the many letters published in the media. Even letters from SAM to the highway authorities  have gone unanswered to this  day.

Malaysian elephants are exposed to dangers from all fronts – from becoming targeted by poachers, automobile accidents, poisoning, and shot or killed by plantation workers.  The future of our  elephants  is bleak.

The electrocution of this lactating female elephant brings to mind a similar incident in Sabah where 7 endangered pygmy elephants died in an abandoned quarry pond last year.  It is irresponsible to leave work projects that are a hazard to both human and animal.

Which government body, department, or agency is responsible for putting up the cabin and later abandoned  it upon completion of its project without  disconnecting its  electrical supply?  Who will be held responsible for this  unsafe worksite?  What if a human had ventured or gone near  the cabin and accidentally stepped on the live wire?

The loss of one elephant is a number less and what about its baby?  It may follow the herd but what are its chances of survival  without its mother?

This cause of death should be clearly investigated and not taken lightly by the Wildlife department.  Such irresponsible action of the parties involved should not be condoned.

Given this situation and neglect of safety protocol, SAM urges the Wildlife department to conduct an in-depth probe into the unfortunate incident and call for investigations and findings to be made public at the soonest time possible

Letter to Editor, 18 January 2018

The Hidden Suffering of Poultry

Malaysians consume chicken meat and eggs on a daily basis yet hardly a thought is given to the horrendous conditions in the modern livestock raising systems known as ‘factory-farming’.

Malaysia is largely self sufficient in poultry meat production with over 81% of  the local domestic demand for meat and more than 111% of the country’s demand for eggs met by the local poultry industry.

However few consumers are aware of the way in which most eggs are produced by hens crammed in small wire cage, sometimes in tiers in dimly lit sheds, without access to sunlight or natural surroundings, and so denied the ability to exercise even the most basic natural instincts. The extreme confinement denies or seriously restricts the birds’ freedom to express patterns of behaviour.

Deprivation of basic needs and behaviour such as walking, turning, exploring, interacting with or avoiding others, or being able to lie in peace and comfort endanger the physical and psychological health of animals. Under such unnatural confinement the birds are under enormous stress resulting in feather pulling and pecking. Beak trimming or debeaking in poultry management is done to prevent such acts of frustration.

They are bred as egg producing machines, the aim being to obtain the optimum production from each bird regardless of its real welfare. And what happens to hens that no longer can produce eggs after about two years in the battery cages? They are then sent to slaughter to be turned into chicken soup and emulsified chicken products such as frankfurter and bologna and in canned products such as soups, sauces, stews and gravies. A tragic end for a hen who spends its life producing eggs to feed the masses.

The other purpose of a chicken is to produce excessive flesh for the meat industry called broiler chickens. But how many know about the short and miserable lives of broiler chickens? Most commonly they are crowded into thousands and confined along with their waste on small land area. Though not confined in cages, they also experience crowded confinement, poor air quality and stressful handling.

In addition to intense confinement, they are subjected to massive doses of antibiotics. They have the potential of exposure to various viruses and bacteria via the manure and urine in their environment.

When finally grown large enough, the birds are packed tightly into crates, stacked high on top of each other onto trucks, and transported over many miles through all weather extremes typically without food or water to the markets for slaughter.

Consumers are unaware about cruel practices being covered under the veil of secrecy that has protected animal abusing industries for a long time. These industries operate outside the public spotlight because the way they treat animals would not be condoned by those concerned about animal welfare.

Malaysia has the opportunity to lead the world when it comes to treatment of animals. Yet we are behind other developed nations shows how clearly change is needed.

It is about time the Ministry of Agriculture look into a Farm Animal Act prohibiting the rearing of birds in cages, crates or other forms of intensive confinement that violates the Animal Welfare Act 2010, with acceptance of best practices and continuance for changes in regulation with animal welfare being a strong driver for increased regulation.

Change is needed, not only for animals but for farmers who need to be able to plan for the future with certainty and confidence.

Press Statement, 29 September 2017

Rescue and Capture Techniques for Wildlife Needed

Some weeks ago we learnt  of a tragic death of a 6m crocodile after being rescued from a dam in Klang.   To be able to leave up to that size is no mean feat having escaped from its predator  – man –  all this while in a country that has traditionally had a great mistrust of them.

While it was the good intention of the Fire and Rescue Department officers to free  the reptile from its fate, its death brings to mind a very important unanswered question.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls for serious attention to the number of massive reptiles being caught by the Fire and Rescue personnel  and the  Civil Defence Corp in the past, which also resulted in the death of a gargantuan python three days after capture.

 

A pertinent question is are our rescue team  well equipped to deal with capture of massive wildlife?  SAM  believes otherwise.   From the picture seen SAM is horrified at the  manner in which the crocodile was hauled up,  reminiscent to hauling up a piece of huge log rather than a breathing living creature.   Experts who are professional in the field of wildlife claimed that pulling up the crocodile in this manner may have caused suffocation to the reptile if the pressure is too strong, and limbs maybe broken with too much force.  Also too soft restraint makes the animal think it has a chance of escaping therefore it struggles more.

Crocodiles particularly large crocs are often severely stressed during and after capture and are easily killed or injured by inappropriate handling.  Stress can lead to “capture  myopathy”  – the shock of being caught, poked and prodded.

Taking, handling and transporting of crocodiles need special expertise where training is needed on large animal rescue. There is no understanding of proper wildlife capture techniques.  Picture taking with captive wild animals seems to be the priority  rather than the welfare of wild caught animals, which often requires  considerations different from those applicable to captive-bred or domesticated species.

SAM’s understanding is that  there is a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)  for the Fire and Rescue department and the Civil Defence Corp for the handling of reptiles,  but is there a similar approach for amphibians – such as a one-ton croc? Are personnel from these two departments equipped with  the necessary knowledge and experience in crocodile capture and handling technique to minimise the potential impacts of capture, as well as having a thorough knowledge of the species being caught  (behaviour, reaction to stress, ability to defend itself)?

It is time the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Wildlife department take into account that  capture of wild crocodiles,  reptiles and other wildlife species  should only be conducted by those with skills and training in capture and handling techniques  and not those  without the expertise and skills.

SAM hopes that the  necropsy report will be made public so as  to ascertain the actual cause of death and if anything could have been done to prevent it.

Letter to Editor, 19 June 2017

Elephants are no match for poachers

Elephants are no match for poachers. The macabre butchering of two Borneo pygmy elephants shows that poachers abound in almost every corner of the country or state waiting to strike when least expected.

In the past, pygmy elephants have become the victims of poisoning reportedly by oil palm plantation workers to deter elephants from eating the fruit of the palm trees.  Last September a group of elephants were stuck in a mud pool in Rinukut for a week leaving seven  dead.

How many more disastrous outcome will befall the elephants  before the Sabah government wakes up to the fact that concerted effort and serious protection from all relevant agencies and political willpower are needed, if wildlife is to survive in Sabah?  Piecing together a conservation area four times the size of Penang island will not help if Class I totally protected forest reserve can be degazetted again or fragmented by a bridge in the middle of the sanctuary.

In the case of the macabre slaughter of the horribly mutilated elephants, what brought Sabre to his end was the wide publicity given to its unusual slanting down  sabre tusk.

The Sabah Environment Ministry and the relevant authorities should have known better than to go all out publicising their discovery. With images of the mini-elephant going viral on social media and electronic print, these will naturally incite poachers’ desire to get at the valuable tusks.  Not forgetting that the Internet is now a medium of choice for wildlife traders and poachers.  Images posted on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can all betray details of a species’ location.

Poachers are scouring popular social media sites looking for any leads on where to find endangered species.  Many are unaware that  poachers are able to use the photographs of incredibly rare lions, tigers and elephants to find and kill the species by downloading digital data attached to the images which will reveal the exact locations of animals.  Many modern cameras and smartphones automatically record the exact time and location where an image is taken and this data is often transferred when a photograph is uploaded on to social media.

In this  age of extinctions, governments love to trumpet any rare or unique findings of species, revealing biological and geographical data. The choice to ‘publicize and protect’ strategy must be based on secrecy particularly the exact whereabouts of species location, while making effective conservation solutions all the more urgent.  Publicity could either generate financial and political support to prevent the species from becoming extinct or it may back-fire when publicity creates threats that were previously absent.

The unique finding requires immediate major conservation intervention, which given the track record of conservation in Sabah is unlikely to be effective. Whether or not  a species is listed as endangered or threatened then depends on a number of factors, including the urgency  and whether adequate protections exist through other means.

The UK Guardian reported that academic journals have begun withholding the geographical locations of newly discovered species after being warned that the data is helping poachers and smugglers drive  lizards, frogs and snakes into near extinction with their collection.  Endangered animals and plants are often the target of wildlife crime because of their rarity.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has guidelines prohibiting the publication of location data for endangered species of high economic value.

It is about time our wildlife are not at risk of or exposure to loss, harm, death, or injury through widespread  publicity.

Media Statement, 19 February 2017

Inhumane Transportation of Livestock

August 29th commemorates the biggest live export disaster which took place in 1996 when a ship carrying 67,000 sheep on board caught fire and disappeared in the Indian Ocean.  The ship was on route from Australia to Jordan – Australia’s biggest market for live sheep – when fire started in the engine room and spread to the crew’s quarters, killing one of the 55 crew members, while the remaining crew abandoned ship.

This tragic incident is not the only one, for another similar incident occurred in 1980, when 40,600 sheep were lost in a fire on a ship travelling from Tasmania to Iran.

On the Malaysian turf in February 1998, 2,400 head of livestock were stranded when they arrived from Geraldton in Western Australia on the MV Anomis.

Suddenly the agent acting for the vessel’s  owners, Agro Livestock Ltd cancelled the contract causing the vessel to be refused entry to Port Klang.  When the ship finally docked after obtaining an order from the High Court, 285 goats and 113 cattle were found to have died from exhaustion, stress and pneumonia.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is taking stock of this very day to spotlight on  another source of animal suffering – the live transport of livestock.  It is  saddening that no attention is being paid to the millions of livestock that are transported by ship and on roads.

Livestock are seldom allowed even as much space in transport as they get in confinement husbandry.  Haulers typically try to pack as many animals into a vehicle as can be shoved aboard. The animals are kept upright by the pressure of the bodies of the other animals around them.

On board ships, their trauma worsens. Many animals routinely die because of breakdowns in ventilation systems on board the ship, bad weather and rough conditions.  Suffocation, starvation, dehydration and disease, sleep deprivation, diarrhea, heat stress, respiratory disease, trauma and motion sickness all take their toll on the animals who collapse, stay where they fall and die slowly and painfully.

Still those who die in transit can be considered lucky when compared to animals that arrived in countries with high temperatures and high humidity and for them, the beginning of a series of terrifying events. Offloaded under inhumane and terrifying circumstances animals are thrown, driven, belted and hacked to get them under control.

Poultry are held in plastic transport cage with many birds squeezed into one cage  and stacked high in a transport truck and or lorries. With many birds inside the cage, movement is restrained until their destination at the markets. There is increased exposure to heat and sun and the amount of time spent without food and water during on longer trips, when truck stops at more markets along the way, has a breakdown or involved in accidents.

Can we as a caring society tolerate  methods of meat production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitable conditions for the entire durations of their lives?   They are treated like machines that convert fodder into flesh and any innovation that results in a higher earning is liable to be adopted.

The perception of  people towards  animals bred for agricultural purposes are merely linked to the food chain.  As such producers do not give any thought to their welfare and are ignorant to farm animal suffering.   Since farm animals are mainly reared for slaughter the importance of animal welfare tends to be overlooked.  Consumers are even less concerned with the issue and are content to remain uninformed so long as they have their meat  on the table.

Then there is  the virtual absence of laws governing the live transport of animals to safeguard animal welfare effectively on long journeys, and neither are there  laws regulating living condition, nor daily handling practices of farm animals.

The question we put forth is whether we really allow the atrocities that exist with the export of live animals for slaughter?  Countries  should  realize that the animals we rear must remain our responsibility till death.  There is no satisfaction to be gained, and certainly no morality in not caring for the sake of commercialization.

Farm animals are meant for slaughter but still they are living creatures like dogs and cats and it is right for everyone right from the authorities to the consumers to be truly concerned for their welfare.

Letter To Editor, 2 September 2016