The Biting Case of Singaporean Animal Welfare

SINGAPORE- Animal Welfare is slowly gaining more importance globally, and there is call for collective international action through the draft United Nations Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (“UDAW”). However, Singapore still has a long way to go in this regard. While there are established organizations like The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (the AVA) and the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) that have made big waves on the animal rights front, there is yet to exist proper and rigorous legislation on this matter. More recently, the putting down of the last “tropical bear” Inuka at the Singapore Zoo raises some important concerns about the Animal Welfare scene locally. 

Existing legislation and why it's not enough
    The generally accepted norm is that animals should not be treated cruelly or be caused any pain and suffering. There are several laws that support this, including the one that places responsibilities on animal owners and those working in animal-related businesses to ensure their liability for the animals in their care. Additionally, there was an Animal and Birds Act introduced in 2014 that ensures that animal owners must take positive action complying with codes of practice (related to animal welfare) if the animal in their care goes missing. Besides this, section 428 of Singapore’s Penal Code also makes it an offense to kill, maim or poison an animal. 
    Yet none of these regulations are concrete enough to cater to animal welfare in all scenarios. For instance, only the AVA can take cases to court and of the 840 reported incidents in 2016, only 104 were taken forward. More importantly, few of the cases that reach court result in dire consequences or penalties. 

The need for rigorous legislation
    At present, organizations have to prove that they have a ‘special interest’ in a case to take any legal action against animal cruelty. However, it is often difficult to prove so. Moreover, the animals themselves do not have legal rights and are hence voiceless. They hence cannot defend themselves legally against abuse, or captivity on unfair grounds. For instance, 27 dolphins were imported from the Solomon Islands despite protest from animal activists. Since 2010, four of them have died in captivity. When asked in 2014, ACRES executive director Louis Ng commented, “Four dolphins have died, when is enough enough?” Similarly, Inuka the Polar Bear, an animal adapted for the extreme cold, was held here in Singapore where the temperature never dips below 25 degrees Celsius. 

Revolutionizing animal welfare in Singapore
    To overcome the aforementioned challenges, the provision of a litigant guardian for animals was proposed, similar to the ones provided in other countries to children or the mentally-handicapped. Another alternative would also be to recognize animals as legal “persons” in the same way the law recognizes companies. This has been done in the past in New Zealand in 1999 where a specific species of apes was granted basic rights to ban their use in testing. Nations like Germany too have incorporated animal rights in their constitution, making it a priority of the state. 
    More efforts also need to go into allowing more organizations, other than just AVA, to put forth animal cruelty cases in court. Currently, there is no process to review or question the actions of AVA. Hence when faced with a problem, organizations should also partake in the discussions concerning the solutions to problems. 

Animal abuse of any form is becoming an increasingly popular discussion all over Singapore and on the Internet. With more people recognizing the need for safeguarding animal rights, it is more possible than ever now to make a difference. With the help of the Government’s Acts, Singapore’s commitment to Animal Welfare is emphasized and conveys the message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in Singapore. With a few more steps in the right direction, a healthier future for animals is possible.

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