Animal welface standards at Johor Zoo leave much to be desired

By Christine Chin Radford, Chairperson, SPCA Selangor
SPCA Selangor applauds Johor Zoo’s quick response to public feedback by relieving Paloh the baby elephant of her chains and putting her in a bigger enclosure in the company of another young elephant, Jeli.
However, we believe that so much more could be done by Johor Zoo to improve the living conditions of the animals under its care, and that Johor Zoo should not have waited for global condemnation and bad publicity before it took positive action to alleviate Paloh’s distress and suffering.
SPCA is opposed to the infliction of pain and suffering of any animal in the name of sport, entertainment (including zoos) or fashion. The capture, transportation, sometimes acclimatisation and confinement of wild animals that cause distress and suffering are unacceptable.

Even as human beings continue to subject other sentient beings to forced confinement to satisfy a variety of human experiences, the Five Freedoms, globally accepted as standards for good animal welfare, must be upheld. They are ;

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from thermal and physical discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain , injury and disease
  4. Freedom from undue anxiety
  5. Freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour
Paloh the baby elephant was clearly denied the five freedoms when she was subjected to an archaic training regime designed to break her will and make her obedient and submissive.
Zoologists, biologists and animal welfare proponents are increasingly promoting more humane methods of training elephants, including positive reinforcement and relationship building between the elephant and its human caregivers without the infliction of pain.
In fact, there are sufficient news reports of tragedies to indicate that cruel methods of elephant training which involve caging, chaining, shackling, beating and ear-poking actually increase an elephant’s anxiety and aggression and may result in elephants rampaging and harming or killing their human keepers.
Although Paloh has now been relieved of her chains and is allowed to be in the company of another young elephant, her enclosure is seen to be bare and devoid of environmental stimuli and enrichment activities that would help alleviate her anxiety and fear at being separated from her mother at such an early age.
Concerns are also raised as to where Paloh’s mother is and whether she is provided with sufficiently nutritious food in lieu of her mother’s milk.
The chaining of Paloh in an area without shade constitutes cruelty within sections 43 and 44 of the Animal Act 1953 (revised 2006), which makes it an offence to ill-treat, infuriate or terrify an animal and to unreasonably doing or omitting to do any act, causing any unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal.
Johor Zoo’s ill-treatment of Paloh should therefore be investigated by the Department of Veterinary Services and PERHILITAN, although measures were already taken to rectify Paloh’s living and ‘training’ conditions.
The Good Animal Husbandry for Pets and Exotic Animals Code written by Jabatan Perkhidmatan Haiwan in 2008 (DVS) recommends adhering to the 5 Freedoms and established guidelines in promoting high standards of animal care and welfare.
The Code highlights responsibilities of persons working with exotic and wild animals, which include an obligation to train employees in the proper and humane handling of animals, adequately instructing personnel on the basic needs of animals under their care according to species, gender and age, and responding to behavioural signs that indicate discomfort or disease by consulting a veterinarian.
SPCA Selangor recommends that Johor Zoo be inspected and suspended if good husbandry is lacking and acts of cruelty to animals have been committed.
Perhilitan must intervene, consult a veterinarian and remove the distressed baby elephant to a treatment facility. Perhilitan must also insist the zoo take immediate remedial action for all the other animals as well.