Sabah Wildlife Park has scope: Experts
Published on: Friday, July 12, 2019
By: David Thien

KOTA KINABALU: Two experts engaged by the Sabah Wildlife Department to audit animals’ welfare at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, opined that the zoo has great potential to improve and get certified for international recognition after two years for good animal welfare.

South African national Dave Morgan of Wild Welfare and American Margaret Whittaker of Creative Animal Behaviour Solutions are doing work to alleviate suffering of animals caused by captivity. They were in the zoo since June 29.

How do we define animal welfare?

“Animal welfare science is about 30 years old. There is no single, unified definition of animal welfare. There is increased emphasis on affective states or emotions,” Dave Morgan explains.

The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park used to receive brickbats on the Internet since a Malaysiakini news portal report on the sun bears there behaving in a repetitive manner known as stereotypies believed to be in mental disorder from confinement in barren concrete enclosure, besides some other animals.

What is stereotypy? According to Dave Morgan, stereotypy is a form of abnormal repetitive behaviour (ARB), derived from normal motor patterns. It develops slowly; early on may be more flexible. With time, patterns become more rigid.

“Repetitive, unvarying behaviours with no apparent goal or function is induced by frustration, repeated attempts to cope.”

Behaviour is how an animal communicates its internal emotional response. For example, elephants in changed environment of palm oil estates that were cleared from their forested habitats in the past.

A former Tourism and Environment Minister shared how vengefully mischievous elephants were in destroying human settlers’ crops in their foray pathways. No human culprits were nabbed under his watch for poisoning or killing elephants.

Abnormal behaviours may be an indication of environmental frustration, or internal psycho-pathology.

“’Mental Health’ is less commonly applied to non-human animals, though physiological and psychological syndromes may be similar,” Dave Morgan stressed.

Margaret Whittaker explains, “Behavioural Management is a comprehensive, pro-active approach to enhancing the care and well-being of captive animals. The four elements include training, enrichment, operational considerations and facility design.”

She admits that she had cases where animals were put down due to abnormal behaviours from mental distress or disorder that no effective solution could help them.

Dave Morgan: “…animals experiencing enhanced welfare should be free of behaviours that are abnormal or indicative of fear and frustration.”

“They should actively explore and interact with their environment and demonstrate a diversity of behaviour similar to that typically observed in the wild …” he explained.

Today, Dave Morgan and Margaret Whittaker have worked, trained and practised ways with the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park staff to improve the situation. There’s a need to form a posse of volunteers to contribute their time, effort and help the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park staff to care for the animals.

Dave Morgan describes his organisation’s work as “Our vision is to end the suffering of captive wild animals around the world, ensuring full and sustainable protection is given to all animals in human care.”

On his organisation’s values, he said, “We believe in a compassionate and empathy based approach to captive wild animal welfare.

“We have no political agenda, and do not get involved in the captive ethical debate but rather focuses on what it can be done now.”



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