More news from Taiwan
- For story with photos check TaipeiTimes
Activists point to widespread animal abuse
Taiwan has some of the world's most comprehensive
laws covering the treatment of animals, but the
actual enforcement of these laws is another matter entirely
By Gavin Phipps
Mar 27, 2005,Page 17
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
in November 1998, Taiwan became only the 54th
country to introduce laws pertaining to the welfare of animals.
Recently captured stray dogs, above, at a shelter
in Taipei await the attention of a veterinary
surgeon. A sick brown bear, below, at Kaohsiung's
Shoushan Zoo is shown in a photo taken covertly by activists.
The Animal Protection
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,
¦æ¬F°|¹A·~·|) works tirelessly to enforce the
law, but with a mere six full-time animal
inspectors employed to cover the whole of Taipei
City and its environs and with even fewer to
monitor other areas, it's hardly surprising that little gets done.
"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,) Huang Ching-rong has also witnessed a lot
of positive changes in the way people view animals in Taiwan over the years.
"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.
According to Huang, there are so many loopholes
in the laws that individuals who harm animals are
rarely, if ever, prosecuted for the correct reasons.
"You could kill a dog, dump the body in the
street, and chances are you'd be charged with the
unlawful disposal of garbage rather than the
killing of a domestic animal," said Huang. "And
you only have to look at the huge number of feral
dogs roaming the streets to realize that fines
for abandonment don't work at all."
The issue of feral dogs has long been the most
publicized of all animal-welfare issues. The law
currently states than any dog found without a
collar or identification chip should be held in a
shelter for 10 days. If the animal remains
unclaimed after this period it can then be
legally put to sleep by lethal injection. Some
pounds ignore this regulation, however, and for
financial reasons put dogs down after only four or five days.
Animal rights groups like the Life
Conservationist Association (LCA) are against the
slaughter of any animal, but it is not only the
act of putting dogs to sleep that has them
appalled. The manner in which many dogs are put
down is contrary to legal guidelines, they say.
"The dog pounds contract out the task of
injecting the dogs to private contractors. Sure,
there might be a trained vet among them, but this
is not always the case," said the LCA's Hank Lee.
"A lot of dogs get injected in the incorrect part
of their anatomy by inexperienced handlers.
Instead of a relatively painless and quick death
these dogs often suffer horrendously before finally dying."
While the feral-dog problem continues to cause
debate and will, according to the LCA's Lee,
"quite possibly get worse before it gets better,"
one of the most vocal of all of Taiwan's animal
rights groups, the Environment and Animal Society
of Taiwan has enjoyed great success in its
campaign to clean up the way in which the nation's slaughterhouses operate.
Every year 300 million chickens, 31 million
ducks, 10 million pigs, 6 million geese, 364,000
turkeys, 260,000 goats and roughly 40,000 cows
are slaughtered in order to satisfy the nation's
craving for meat. A majority of these animals are
slaughtered in one of the 80 carefully monitored
government-run abattoirs, but others are not so
lucky and are killed at private slaughterhouses
that still practice inhumane methods of animal slaughter.
"Until four years ago nearly every slaughterhouse
disregarded the law," said EAST's Director, Wu Hung.
"Pigs had their feet bound to stop them from
walking in order to make the meat richer. Cows
were starved of food and force-fed water for
three to four days before slaughter in order to
make them heavier and chickens were often put
into feathering machines still alive," he said.
On his once-regular visits to abattoirs, Wu not
only witnessed pre-slaughter abuse, but also saw
the inhumane methods employed by slaughterhouse
workers to kill the animals. Pigs, cows, chickens
and goats were often slain by having their
throats cut and were rarely, if ever stunned and put to sleep beforehand.
EAST's awareness campaign caused such a commotion
and had such an effect on the general public that
the COA was finally forced to act.
"We were very concerned about the way in which
slaughterhouses were being run," said the COA's
Andrew Wang. "We now have 300 inspectors who
visit and monitor slaughterhouses to ensure that
they are both hygienic and employ humane methods of slaughter."
By law, all abattoirs must now first stun an
animal with an electric prod and, when the animal
is asleep, fire a single shot from a bolt gun
into the beast's head. Slaughterhouses found to
employ inhumane practices now face fines from
NT$100 to NT$500,000. The COA also has the right
to close operations of any slaughterhouse that
openly or continually flouts the regulations.
The COA may be confident that it has eradicated
inhumane practices of animal slaughter, but EAST
is not convinced. Since it's campaign made
headline news, the animal-rights group has been
denied access to nearly all of the nation's
slaughterhouses. And, according to the group, it
is quite possible that 60 percent of pigs are still being killed inhumanely.
Local animal-rights groups may remain wary of how
the government deals with laws pertaining to the
rights of domestic and farm animals, but one area
in which the NGOs and the government have
successfully worked together is that of outlawing
the capture and sale of indigenous wildlife, especially primates.
Until the late 1980s the sight of illegally
imported orangutans and local primates was
commonplace. But Taiwan's inclusion in the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has
reduced the once-widespread importation of endangered animals.
On a more local scale, the opening of the
Pingtung Rescue Center for Endangered and Wild
Animals in 1993 enabled authorities to place any
illegally imported animal into proper care. Since
its opening, the center has rescued more than
1,000 animals and now participates in educational
exchange programs with institutes overseas.
"The media attention given to the CITES agreement
and the opening of the Pintung Rescue Center have
been pivotal in altering people's concepts of how
we view and treat endangered animals," said Huang.
"Without them Taiwan would not have made such
great inroads in the area of animal welfare," he said.
The sale and importation of primates may have
successfully been stemmed, but the plight of the
Formosan macaque has now taken center stage.
While no longer critically endangered, the
Formosan macaque remains, according to the World
Conservation Union's (IUCN) Red List of
Threatened Animals, at risk of extinction in the
wild in the medium-term future. Every year dozens
of them are killed or maimed by wire snares and poisons laid out by hunters.
"There is not and never has been a government
regulation on the number of macaques that can be
caught and moved, and if there was I'm sure the
farmers would complain," said Lee Ling-ling of
the Department of Zoology at National Taiwan
University. "Until some kind of legal framework
can be settled upon, it's a no-win situation for
everybody concerned," Lee added.
Once hunted solely for its bones, which were
boiled down into a broth and drunk by young men
who believed the concoction would give them
everlasting virility, the trapping of macaques
was outlawed in 1989. While it is illegal to
slaughter macaques, even trespassing ones,
farmers can apply for a permit to trap the
primates. The unlicensed killing of a macaque is
punishable with a lengthy prison sentence or a
hefty fine or both, depending on the circumstances.
Dr. Shirley McGreal, Chairwoman
International Primate Protection League
Summerville SC 29484, USA
Ph. 843-871-2280: Fax: 843-871-7988: www.ippl.org
"Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because
we build cars and buildings and start wars etc...and
all that dolphins do is swim in the water, eat fish
and play around. Dolphins believe that they are
smarter for exactly the same reasons."
--Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy