Ask anyone on the street their views regarding the need for animal welfare and chances are a vast majority will, on moral or religious grounds, have strong opinions in favor of treating animals with the same respect as humans. Despite this, animal abuse remains an unavoidable fact of life in Taiwan.
Chickens are inhumanely slaughtered in public at wet markets, the sale of dog meat continues, traditional Chinese medicine stores continue to sell parts of endangered animals, and take a stroll down Taipei's infamous Snake Alley on any given day and the sight of snakes awaiting their slaughter is inescapable.
With such widespread abuse, the public could be forgiven for supposing the nation is void of any laws governing the welfare of the nation's non-human inhabitants. In reality, however, Taiwan has some of the world's most comprehensive laws governing the treatment of animals.
When the government implemented the Animal Protection Law in November 1998, Taiwan became only the 54th country to introduce laws pertaining to the welfare of animals.
The Animal Protection Law covers the treatment of all animals, domestic, wild and livestock. Laws cover everything from maltreatment and abandonment to the use of animals in gambling and even the age of those who can legally be held responsible for the well being of a domestic animal. Fines against those who flout the rules range from NT$2,000 to NT$2500,000, and in certain cases abuses can lead to imprisonment.
Yet while Taiwan has such comprehensive laws, many of them only exist on paper. The actual enforcement of the laws is another matter entirely. The Council of Agriculture (COA,
"They have some of the best laws in the world, but they simply don't enforce them and there are certainly not enough inspectors to do the job," said the International Primate Protection League's (IPPL) Taiwan field representative, Charles Shuttleworth. "When the police do act they do a very a good job indeed, but they could do a lot more."
One of the first foreign nationals to take a vocal interest in animal welfare in Taiwan, Shuttleworth has been at the forefront of animal conservation since 1969. And while he feels that a lot more could be done to ensure that animals are protected, he has seen some remarkable changes over the past 30 years.
"It used to be terrible. People would chop limbs off animals while they were still alive. People would put monkeys in cages and leave them out in the sun because they believed it would make [monkeys] smaller and cuter," he said. "I even saw a man put a tube up a crocodile's [anus], blow air into it and then jump on the creature so it would make what he considered to be a funny sound."
Horrific abuses such as these may still take place, but they are kept a long way from the public's gaze. Like Shuttleworth, veterinary surgeon and Secretary General of the Animal Protection Association of the Republic of China (APA,
"I remember when animal rights first became an issue in the 1960s. It all started with the water buffalo. Farmers were so fed up with their cattle roaming onto roads only to be hit by cars that they petitioned the government to dig ditches at the sides of roads to stop their cattle from being killed," Huang said.