Asia for Animals conference: the horrors of illegal wildlife trading and live exports

Picture1 chained monkeyIn a call to action at the 2015 Asia for Animals conference, the CEO of International Animal Rescue, Alan Knight, urged delegates to call on YouTube and Google to adopt an animal welfare charter.

International Animal Rescue (IAR) recently launched a campaign, which went viral on social media, to combat online videos that promote cruelty to slow lorises by showing them being tickled or hand-fed.

The singer Rihanna posted a selfie of herself holding a slow loris and Lady Gaga was intending to use one as a prop in her music video until it bit her.

YouTube videos show pet lorises eating rice balls and other unsuitable food.

Alan Knight OBE & Bill BaileyDuring his keynote speech, Knight (pictured left) showed delegates at the conference in Kuching, Malaysia, IAR’s “Tickling is torture” video, which includes horrific footage of a slow loris having its teeth pulled out without anaesthetic. To make the animals easier to handle, traders pull out their teeth with toenail clippers or pliers and the slow lorises not only suffer anguish and pain, but often develop infections that can be fatal.

Picture1 loris having teeth pulled outKnight has actually seen this happen in a market in Jakarta in Indonesia, and tells of the animal screaming in agony. “The animals get abscesses in the teeth, which can cause massive inflammation of the jaw. The guys doing this are doing it purely for profit so that they can tell people the animals are safe to have as pets.”

In the “Tickling is torture” video, there is a call for pledgesnot to support and encourage the illegal pet trade in slow lorises”.

Those signing the pledge promise not to share or like any video or photo that shows a slow loris being kept as a pet and, where possible, to comment, directing people to the IAR’s slow loris rescue page “to help expose the truth and end the suffering”.

The campaign, which is supported by a several celebrities, including comedian Jo Brand and British actor Peter Egan, has attracted 250,000 pledges so far.

Knight says those pledges can be used to show YouTube and Google that IAR has worldwide support.

“Now, if you Google ‘Tickling a slow loris’, our video comes up so we have, in effect, removed the tickling video from its top spot on Google,” Knight said.

The tickling videos show slow lorises raising their arms above their head. They aren’t doing this because they enjoy being tickled; it is their way of trying to defend themselves by accessing a venomous gland on their elbow.

The Javan slow loris is already at risk of becoming extinct very soon, Knight says.

Knight talked to conference delegates about the plight of numerous other animals, including the orangutan, the macaque, and pandas.

“There are only 1,600 pandas left in the wild,” he said. “Only two rehabilitated pandas have ever been released into the wild. One went back into a population that had a wild dominant panda and was killed immediately. In the case of the other panda, its collar came off and it’s not known what happened to it.”

Knight says he is striving to close the gap that exists between those working for animal welfare and those more focused on conservation.

IAR was very much set up with the welfare of individual animals in mind, Knight says. “When you look at a slow loris in a cage, or a macaque on a chain, or a baby orangutan looking out through the slats on a crate, I’m really interested in rescuing that animal for the animal’s sake.”

IAR counters comments that the organisation has been “wasting time” on macaques when the species is considered by some to be unimportant from a conservation point of view. He thinks the numbers of pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques are decreasing so much that they are going to become a conservation-status animal.

“Humans in Indonesia are using them in large numbers for the pet trade, and also for bio-medical research. They are being shipped out to China and America and being used for experiments, which is really worrying.”

Macaques in Pramuka market in JakartaMacaques in Pramuka market in Jakarta.

IAR has two specialist dental vets who have donated their time to treat slow lorises and have managed to get animals into a condition to be released back into the wild. One of them worked wonders on an orangutan called Pinky, who had been given lots of sweets and sweet tea. “She had a chain around her neck and was in a very bad way when we got her in,”  Knight said. The animal had to have seven teeth removed, and have half a dozen root canal treatments.

The organisation also has a new PCR machine, which is used for genetic fingerprinting of orangutans. “It’s giving us the best possible opportunity to check for disease in the animal and we’re very keen to look at TB. We want to make sure that TB is kept out of the wild population so we PCR check each of the animals before they go into our centre. We want to expand the use of that machine so that we can look at other diseases.”

If the current destruction continues, Knight says, animal welfare NGOs will be the sole source of wildlife to populate safe rainforest.

Knight points out that, despite the millions and perhaps billions of pounds that has been spent on tiger conservation, there are only 3,200 of the animals left in the wild, Knight points out. “There are more tigers in certain states of America than there are in the wild.”

There are only about 40,000 orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra, Knight adds, which is a reduction of 20,000 over the past ten years.

Reducing the wildlife trade in China

P1020798 (640x480)In her keynote address, entitled “A holistic approach to reducing the wildlife trade in China”, Chenyue Ma (pictured left), from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), focused on the illegal ivory trade and told how the legal market was a cover for illegal trade.

She spoke about the need for education. “Seventy percent of Chinese don’t know that ivory comes from dead elephants,” she said. She called on policy makers, and not just consumers, to change their behaviour.

There has been a reduction in the online wildlife trade, Chenyue says, but, as the traffickers moved away from open e-commerce websites, there was now more trading in private social media forums and the WeChat mobile phone app was the most popular means of access.

“We approached Tencent, which is the parent company of Wechat. We encouraged them to do something about it, and they did. They started an initiative called ‘Tencent for the planet’.”

When infringement is reported, the listing is removed. “Up until now about 75,000 listings have been removed from WeChat,” Chenyue said.

IFAW is collaborating with the company Sohu and when people use its Sogou search engine to look for ivory, a banner pops up warning people not to buy it.

Ivory trade

Kanitha Krishnasamy from TRAFFIC spoke about Malaysia and told horror stories about the trade in animal parts.

She told of the inadequate fines that left traffickers walking smiling out of courtrooms and investigations that stop before they get anywhere near the “kingpins” of trafficking operations.

Malaysia is a transit point for huge consignments of ivory that are destined for China.

P1020583 (640x480)

It is not just elephant tusks that are traded in Malaysia, Krishnasamy says. Rhino horns are in demand and ivory from the helmeted hornbill is quite a prized commodity in many countries. The largest seizures of hornbill ivory are in China and Indonesia. “From May 2012 to August 2014, more than 2,600 hornbill tusks were seized. Half of them were seized in China and half were seized in Indonesia,” Krishnasamy said.

hornbill ivoryHornbill ivory

Krishnasamy also highlighted the trade in bear bile. What was extremely concerning, she said, was the amount of whole bear gall bladders available in shops.

Also of great concern for TRAFFIC is the growing trade in the earless monitor lizard, an animal only found in Borneo. Most were being sold in the US and Europe, but they are now also being bought in Japan.

Live exports

P1020602 (640x480)Thomas King (pictured left), from Animals Australia, told delegates about the horrors of the live animal export trade

“Australia bears the shameful title of being the largest live exporter of animals for slaughter in the world,” he said. “It continues to export millions of animals to countries where there are no laws to protect them from inhumane treatment.”

When fearful men have to restrain and slaughter large beasts, it is a recipe for cruelty and disaster, King says. “Over the past ten years our investigations have documented slaughter workers restraining animals by cutting their leg tendons, by stunning them in their eyes to blind them, by trussing their legs and throwing them to the ground, and by stabbing at their necks until they bleed out.”

An investigation in Vietnam showed Australian cows being tied to poles and being sledge-hammered to death.

About 90,000 pregnant dairy cattle are exported from Australia annually. China is leading the way in dairy factory farming, King says. “Not only are these cows scarred from having their babies torn away from them time and time again, but they are now being denied any life worth living by being kept in metal crates on concrete slabs their entire lives until they are anywhere from three to seven years of age and their milk production declines and they are considered spent and so are sent to slaughter.”

Each year, Australia exports between two and four million cattle and sheep to the Middle East and hundreds of thousands of cattle to Southeast Asia. For the sheep, the journey varies between three and five weeks and, for cattle being transported to Asia, journeys take between five days and three weeks. “The larger export ships are up to 16 decks high and can be packed with 22,000 cattle or 110,000 sheep,” King said.

P1020597 (640x480)Cattle raised on very large outback farms. “Sometimes they might only see humans once a year and so they are these fearful, large, wild beasts, essentially, that have to be mustered, often by helicopter and motorbike before being loaded onto trucks for more than a day before they actually reach the ship, so the stresses of export start long before the animals are actually on the ships,” King told delegates.

Other issues

There were also presentations about safeguarding animal welfare in zoos and the use of wild animals for entertainment.

Arpan Sharma from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) talked about the campaign to get all animals banned from circuses in India and Upreshpal Singh from Friends of the Orangutan (FOTO) Malaysia urged delegates to support FOTO’s campaigns to stop the use of orangutans as a tourist attraction at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria luxury resort in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and bring an end to orangutan petting at the Taman Safari parks in Indonesia.

The conference continues for two more days, with a focus today (Wednesday) on the future of animals in Borneo.

“Tickling is torture”:

“Tickling is torture” campaign


More conference coverage to follow.