By Terry Xu
Jointly organized by ACRES and Chong Pang Division, the Singapore Animal Protection Symposium and Chong Pang Forum on Animal Protection Policies was successfully held at Chong Pang Community Centre on 13 July 2013. Featuring a series of talks , public forums over the course of day and exhibition booths set up by 13 animal welfare organisations, the event attracted a crowd of a few hundred participants .
The symposium covered a wide range of topics involving animal welfare which includes animal management, tackling wildlife trading and wildlife conflicts in Singapore.
Speaking to the organizations taking part in the exhibitions on the topic of animal welfare, education and improving/enforcing legislation are the key points to improve animal welfare whether it is for wildlife like monkeys or for domestic animals such as cats and dogs. Education on good breeding habits and responsible ownership to prevent animals from being abandoned to become strays while legislation for animal welfare, such as enforcing laws set out to prevent people from feeding wildlife, illegal and errant pet mills. Some of the organizations mentioned about cases which were clear cut but fall short of having the cases being enforced.
Ms Vinita, a resident at the Bukit Timah area, spoke on the issue of Macaques in Bukit Timah hill highlighted the most of the residents do not want the macaques to be culled. Misinformation was somewhat given by the trappers engaged by Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to the residents as they were told that the monkeys will only be brought away but no mention of culling were ever made. She went on to say that the people who complain the loudest would make the difference, appealing to people that they should speak up for issues that they are concerned about.
Mr Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at National University of Singapore using an example of the crow issue that Singapore had explains that culling of animals do not work. Ultimately human behavior has to be changed in order to resolve the issues. In the case of the crows, it was to eliminate their food source which is from the food courts. A campaign was launched back then to encourage people to clear their trays after dining so to deny crows of their meal, it turned out to be successful in bringing the crow numbers down. Other than the issue of culling, the issue of “Hijacking by the minority” was brought out. More than often if asked, residents don’t want to have animals culled and if there are any, it is only a few vocal minority.
Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Law and MP for Nee Soon GRC who was at the symposium with his four dogs, one being adopted from the symposium last year said that he is positive about the direction of how programmes such as the rehoming of stray dogs is progressing. Apart from legislation being enacted, there is this need to have the public educated with the assistance of non-government organisations (NGOs) to develop the society into a more compassionate and humane society.
On issues of animal welfare with agencies such as AVA in Singapore, he said
“We have to deal with how the society behaves and treats animals, how we inculcate more responsibilities and how the entire society can be more tolerant to a certain extent. And I want to say in this context we could be very passionate but we are in the minority. And if the majority of the people are scared of animals, they would put pressure on AVA or MND to take action. And if AVA or MND are caught in the middle, with a significant majority saying do something to reduce the animals whether is it monkeys or dogs, any other animals. A small minority who is more passionate cannot do anything. And ultimately they have to go with the majority. And particularly if their assessment is one of safety, and therefore this battle have to be fought on hearts and minds of the people and social values. That is how you make larger and longer terms changes.”
At the public forum with Minister Shanmugam being as one of the panelist, concerned animal lovers went up one after the other to the microphones to seek answers to their questions to the panel.
One brought up a case of animal abuse that took place in Yishun where the police failed to secure a statement from an eye witness to the abuse which was required for AVA to file charges, and asked if agencies such as AVA and the police could have a standard operating procedure to deal with animal abuse cases. The minister defended the actions of the police for dismissing the witness of the abuse before taking his statement down, as it was proper procedure to take down the abuser’s statement first. And ultimately if the witness was not prepared to return to file his statement, there will be difficulties later to have the witness to turn up in court, should the animal abuser be charged.
While another proposed an idea of having a voluntary animal police force to investigate on animal abuses and illegal pet mills as more efforts and commitment would be put into the cases but was dismissed as unnecessary by the law minister as the police force is deem sufficient to address the investigations on animal abuses. He ensured that if there is a need for more policemen and women to address the issue, the police force will increase its force. But he too brought out a point that the police force have issues recruiting people into regular force. Which might seem pretty contradicting given that voluntary investigators made up of animal lovers could help to relieve the police’s work on such investigations so that they could handle other pressing issues on hand.