New Kemaman zoo a really wild idea

>> Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) would like to register our strong stand against the setting up of a zoo in Bukit Takal, Kemaman, touted to be the largest in the east coast region for Terengganu.

The primary objective in setting up the zoo is to boost tourism. Contrary to this belief, zoos don't attract tourists at all. Most zoos attract more than 80% of their visitors from within their own surrounding community and more than half are people who make frequent return visits.

After some time, these return visitors stop coming resulting in losses with the zoo deteriorating in condition further.

This raises doubts as to whether zoos are indeed a major tourist draw. There is this fixated idea that zoos are the only answer to pull in the crowd in these states.

Zoos are not always exotic and exciting places to visit as it can be depressing to look at animals who are imprisoned and removed from their natural habitat.

State governments and the tourist industry should not view zoos as places to amuse and entertain people but rather address the question of whether or not zoos ought to exist and if they should exist in what form and for what purpose.

Animals captive in zoos suffer from a ‘zoochosis syndrome’ due to the removal of these animals from their natural habitat and due to frustration, boredom, lack of life in normal social groups and other stereotyped behaviour.

The point that needs to be emphasised is that in zoos, mini zoos, bird parks and all similar establishments, animal welfare standards are hardly met, often drawing public criticisms.

SAM’s own survey revealed many bird and animal exhibits in cramped and barren enclosures, often exploited to perform circus-style tricks or for photography sessions.

Among the many animal attractions at this new forthcoming zoo in Kemaman is the Bird of Paradise. How and where these birds are sourced from is a question that needs to be seriously addressed by the natural resources and environment ministry and the Wildlife department.

These birds listed under Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) are totally protected in their country of origin – Indonesia.

Has a 'special permit' been granted by the ministry for the keeping of these endangered birds?

SAM would also like to highlight the issuance of these ‘special permit’ which sanctions animal facilities to keep highly endangered species. There is no scrutiny as to how the animals are sourced, used or kept. This further fuels wildlife trade and makes a mockery of the law.

SAM firmly contends that this ‘special permit’ should not be applicable to zoos, mini-zoos, bird parks, reptile farms, butterfly parks, theme parks and all zoological establishments except for wildlife rescue centers or institutions.

Serious consideration should be given to legislating a Zoo Licensing Act subjecting all zoological collections to be licensed and inspected to meet the minimum standards of good animal welfare and ethical conduct.

SAM is opposed to the unjustified ‘containment’ of wild animals. Life in the wild is complex, unpredictable and frequently dangerous but it is there that wild animals have evolved to meet the challenges of survival and that is where they belong.

In view of the above, SAM calls upon the Terengganu government to re-think and re-consider its plan in setting up a zoo at Bukit Takal, Kemaman.

The writer is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia.