Malaysiakini Letter

An escape that ended in death

SM Mohd Idris  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) raises concerns about an issue which has attracted much publicity since it became news after it was highlighted by animal rights activists - the shooting of a chimpanzee at a zoo in Langkawi.

Why was the chimp shot? Because it made a daring escape from its night den, into its enclosure and into the open. A sad and tragic ending for a chimp that had lived a life of misery along with two other chimps.

Transferred from their dingy 3m by 4m enclosures at the Bukit Gambang Safari Park, wherein they were incarcerated for close to three years, to the Langkawi Nature Park (LNP), which are both owned by the Sentoria group, did not allow for a good quality of life for these chimps.

Adult chimps can be very dangerous and they can be a threat to people in zoos, if they escape. But zoos must also be prepared with humane options, or non-lethal methods of subduing a chimp, such as a tranquiliser dart, or net, for cases of escaped wildlife.

At that time of this escape, the zoo was closed to public. In this case, serious questions need to be raised immediately about how an adult chimp managed to escape, and why the animal was shot dead.

Zoos are required to ensure that enclosures and boundary fencing are designed and maintained to prevent escapes. Obviously, the LNP is substandard and should be held accountable for the chimp’s escape in the first place.

Damaging to place animals in barren cages

Judging from the banging on the cages, the chimps are not receiving the proper enrichment and stimuli. In the wild, chimps live in large groups. Here at the park, it is psychologically damaging for them to be put into small barren cages because they lack mental stimulation and the company of their own kind.

These are the types of behaviours often seen in animals that are closely confined, lack proper care and habitat areas, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise.

Is The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) aware of the plight of the chimps kept in Bukit Gambang zoo? If Perhilitan has an eye for detail, then action should be taken against the zoo’s management for the psychological abuse suffered by the chimps. Often animals’ normal behaviour is seldom discussed, much less observed, and their natural needs are rarely met.

The Zoo Licencing Act should be amended to force zoo managers to ensure the psychological needs of the animals are met. The only welfare protection zoo animals have is not to be treated cruelly. The fact that an animal is not able to behave in the normal way of its species is not considered cruelty. This means that local zoos can continue to house animals in a space likened to a “menagerie from the last century”.

Wildlife officials need to heed increased public awareness of the suffering of captive animals and listen to wildlife experts who recommend that zoos be phased out. SAM believes that visitor experience at zoos should not be considered more important than animal welfare.

If one is truly concerned about the impact that zoos have on animal welfare, it is best to stay away from zoos and businesses which hold animals captive for profit, and as a source of entertainment.

SM MOHD IDRIS is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM, Friends of the Earth, Malaysia).

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