Animal rules target discrete areas

By Wu Hung 朱增宏  / 

Fri, Mar 07, 2014 - Page 8

The Forestry Bureau announced draft amendments to the Regulations Governing Commercial Wildlife Raising and Breeding (營利性野生動物飼養繁殖管理辦法), based on Article 36, Paragraph 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法). These proposed changes involve the regulation and licensing of premises where wildlife is reared, bred and sold.

Specifically, the draft amendments require license applicants to provide plans covering what they propose to do with animals still in their possession when they either cease trading or go out of business and to sign an affidavit to that effect. The new rules would also prohibit the sale of sick animals, or those considered too young for sale, and require local authorities to carry out regular inspections of the premises.

Additionally, the draft changes require operators to ensure their animals were obtained legally, in accordance with their responsibilities and obligations as breeders and rearers.

The amendments are to be applauded for addressing the longstanding chaos in the wildlife breeding and sales sector and for improving wildlife conservation and the welfare of wildlife in captivity.

However, operators within the sector have objected to the changes, claiming that the new rules would harm their livelihoods. A Chinese-language newspaper reported that Yang Chih-hung (楊志宏), deputy chief of the Forestry Bureau, responded to the objections by saying that the changes were necessary to safeguard animal rights, just as they were needed to protect consumers’ rights and interests and to improve the supervision of the care of captive birds.

However, the article criticized Yang by saying that the Wildlife Conservation Act was attempting to be too inclusive and that there was too much overlap between it and the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法).

Unfortunately, the article revealed the author’s lack of understanding about the spirit and scope of these two pieces of legislation and may have misled readers.

Fundamentally, both pieces of legislation are concerned with the protection of the quality of life for animals and the overall health of the ecosystem, but the Wildlife Conservation Act addresses treatment of animals at the levels of species and groups, with an emphasis on conservation, while the Animal Protection Act is geared toward pets, livestock and lab animals, focusing on the maintenance of the lives and welfare of individual animals. It is not a simple case of one addressing animal rights and the other taking care of animal welfare.

To give an example, some pet stores sell birds that the store owners caught in the wild. These birds are forcibly removed from their natural habitats and introduced into an entirely different environment, as a pet in someone’s living room.

This not only has an impact upon the welfare of individual birds, in terms of the manner in which the store owner looks after them: The systematic capture of birds from the wild also has serious implications for local ecosystems.

Animal welfare and ecological conservation are far from mutually exclusive. In practice, both pieces of legislation govern aspects of how wild animals are kept as pets: Sometimes one will take precedent, while at others they will support each other, but it is not the case that they will operate in isolation.

As an additional example, consider street vendors who sell popular, exotic, non-protected wildlife, such as sugar glider possums and chameleons; the more common wildlife captured for sale, like red turtle doves, spice finches and “Japanese white eye” mejiros; and the offspring of protected species that are reared in captivity, such as parrots and red arowanas.

If the vendors or the customers are irresponsible in how they breed or sell these species, the introduction of foreign species could lead to various problems, including the wreaking of havoc on local biodiversity and other threats to ecological balance.

Animal welfare refers to the idea that, if animals are to be owned and “used,” then at the very least they should be treated humanely. Animal rights, on the other hand, refers to a fundamental opposition to the idea that human beings can “use” animals in any way.

The current incarnation of the Animal Protection Act merely prohibits the slaughter of domesticated animals such as cats and dogs for food. It is neither effective at preventing the mistreatment or abuse of animals nor at the maintenance of animal welfare. It certainly does not approach ensuring animal rights.

The Regulations Governing Commercial Wildlife Raising and Breeding accomplish their intended goal. The legislation is about the commercial use of wildlife, so it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that the draft amendments were made to protect animal rights.

The general direction the Forestry Bureau is taking with these amendments is to be commended. If animals are to be bred and sold, these guidelines would improve animal welfare and, in terms of the supervision of the sector, would also facilitate the establishment of commercial procedures and ethics.

However, more measures must be added, including the prohibition of close breeding, of breeding animals with congenital defects and of interbreeding, to avoid the unnecessary destruction of animals. The regulations must also require operators to provide information showing that animals in their care have separate cages — and the size of the cages — and the maximum number of animals the premises can house.

This information would be used by local authorities during inspections and details can be noted on the relevant licenses to facilitate follow-up checks. To prevent these procedures from becoming mere formalities, there must also be an impartial third party — veterinarians, professionally trained wildlife handlers, or members of non-governmental organizations — present during inspections, to give credibility to the checks. Also, information about the contents and the conclusions of these inspections should be made public, to increase awareness of wildlife conservation and animal welfare.

Local governments need increased powers to require breeders or sellers who do not meet standards and who cannot improve their appraisal results within a stated period to cease trading until they make the necessary improvements.

The creation and amendment of legislation should take into account different opinions and provide a platform for dialogue. If any clauses prove difficult to implement or controversial, the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法) allows for public hearings to clear up points of contention, to seek the optimal consensus or to moot a third piece of legislation. This ensures fairness, openness and a democratic result and is in line with executive principles and is capable of increasing administrative efficiency.

Wu Hung is the chief executive of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan.

Translated by Paul Cooper