Asian wildlife crisis breeds new ethic
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1998:
BANGKOK, Thailand; BITUNG, Indonesia;
HONG KONG, China; KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia– –
Rapidly building the biggest anti-poaching force in the world,
with a budget of next to nothing, environment and public
health minister Datuk Amar James Wong of Sarawak state,
Malaysia, on December 3 asked the state forestry department
to expedite the appointment of another 1,000 volunteer deputy
wildlife rangers, to reinforce the efforts of the 4,500 volunteer
deputies already on duty.
Wong also asked the Sarawak Timber Association to
support the addition of timber camp managers to the volunteer
“Village elders, national guard members, and councillors
will likewise be recruited,” Wong pledged.
The timber association has already sponsored publication
of a manual for the volunteer deputies.
Wong’s idea is to give a broad portion of the responsible
citizenry of Malaysia an active role in upholding wildlife
His strategy could backfire, if it puts poachers in
charge of anti-poaching efforts. Asking timber bosses to protect
forests, for instance, is clearly taking a risk.
Wong is betting, however, that individual fear of
public disgrace if caught will prove stronger than temptation––and
with thousands of deputies on the job, it only takes
one vigilant individual, in theory, to catch any scofflaw.
Wong’s request for more deputies was only one of a
series of Malaysian policy-level actions against poachers during
a busy six days, beginning November 24 when Terengganu
state wildlife and national parks department deputy director
Ghazali Omar announced that hunters who overshoot barking
deer and mouse deer quotas or kill deer out of season will lose
their hunting privileges for life.
Johor state authorities said a day later that they will
issue no more permits for recreational hunting, pending an
inventory of harm done to endangered species by sport hunters
abusing their permits. Completing the inventory may take
months or years. Depredation permits will still be available to
farmers who lose crops to wildlife.
A new wildlife protection act adopted in May by the
Sarawak state assembly took effect October 1.
On November 27, Sarawak forests and wildlife
senior assistant director Encik Safuan Haji Ahmad warned that
the firearms of people caught illegally hunting in national parks
will be confiscated, and their firearm licenses will be permanently
“Unless there is a culling exercise,” Encik Safuan
said, “no hunting activities will be allowed without written
approval. So far,” he claimed, “no one has been caught hunting
or poaching in the national parks. But we do receive
reports that such activities are going on behind our back,” he
“With animals and plants being pushed to the brink
of extinction at an alarming rate, and with pristine spots coming
under increasing intrusion, we have an enormous duty to
protect nature’s last stronghold. We also wish to point out,”
Encik Safuan emphasized, “that no one is allowed to keep
endangered species as pets, hunt them, disturb them, sell
them, or keep body parts as trophies. It is against the law.”
On December 1, the Sarawak Wildlife Department
gave pharmacies, souvenir sellers, and
antique shops just one week to get rid of all
stocks of wildlife body parts.
“They may not acquire any new
stock, even for decoration,” Miri Division
enforcement officer Kanyan Banong told
Stephen Then of the Malaysia Star.
The firm declarations came after six
months of less severe measures, including
restrictions on the sale of ammunition, and
were encouraged by the October debut of the
Malaysian National Animal Welfare Foundation.
“The foundation was formed, said
newly elected chairperson Mohd Nordin Mohd
Nor, “to develop a society which integrates
animal welfare into the culture of Malaysia.”
Like neighboring Indonesia,
Malaysia is predominantly Islamic with an ethnic
Chinese mercantile class and a history of
authoritarian government, combined with
freewheeling entrepreneurism. Malaysia has
recently suffered from similar forest fires and
economic collapse. Yet the determined
Malaysian response to wildlife-related crime
is conspicuously different from the l a i s s e z
f a i r e attitude of Indonesia––and Malaysian
officials seem to realize that when push comes
to shove between wildlife protection and a
strong hunting tradition, hunting must yield.
Rarely accused of either sensationalism
or bunny-hugging, and known mainly for
coverage of money, The Wall Street Journal
recently shocked financial district readers
worldwide with a page one expose of wildlife
exploitation in Indonesia.
Paragraph two described Taiwanese
visitors gorging on “fruit bat curry, fried forest
rat and barbequed snake.”
Paragraph three recounted how a visiting
tuna trawler captain arranged a feast on
the brains of live baby crested black macaques.
It may have been the most grisly
wildlife-related expose The Wall Street
Journal has ever published.
But though the anonymous W a l l
Street Journal reporter maybe hadn’t previously
noticed the carnage, and depicted it as a
consequence of the present economic crisis, it
all sounded much like business as usual.
The Editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE
heard an almost identical description of monkey-brain-eating
from a Chinese sailor in
International Primate Protection
League founder Shirley McGreal, beginning
in 1973 as the horrified wife of a U.S. foreign
service employee then stationed in Thailand,
has frequently exposed everything The Wall
Street Journal mentioned, in greater detail,
naming culprits, dates, and places.
“Even in good times, this huge archipelago
paid little mind to environmental protection,”
the Wall Street Journal a d m i t t e d .
“But there was progress in recent years, environmentalists
say, as a growing middle class
learned about Indonesia’s wonderous biodiversity
and took steps to save it.”
The ANIMAL PEOPLE a r c h i v e s
suggest that the now deposed Suharto dictatorship
merely became astute at landing grants
and loans for environmental projects which
were rarely fulfilled.
A particular bonanza may have been
winning the right to host the 1999 meeting of
the Conventional on International Trade in
Endangered Species, which––if it proceeds as
planned––will bring to Jakarta hundreds of
delegates and their retinues from CITES member
nations, plus nongovernmental observers
Anyone from an agency or organization
with money may expect to be asked to
fund conservation schemes by the dozen.
Some might even be legitimate.
Despite growing use of “green”
rhetoric, destruction of the Indonesian rainforest
and depletion of native wildlife only accelerated
during the 30-year Suharto regime.
Human population growth imposed
one pressure. Now the world’s fourth most
populous nation, Indonesia crams 191 people
into islands more densely settled than France.
Yet many nations, still more densely
populated, more successfully protect nature.
Lack of cultural and political restraint on the
use of animals, habitat, and donated money
appear to have posed the greater threat. In
1994, for instance, Suharto diverted $185
million from the Forest Ministry reforestation
account as an interest-free loan to the aircraft
maker Industri Pesawat Terbang Negara. The
deal apparently benefitted members of the
Suharto family––and reinforced the message to
the economically ambitious, both rich and
poor, that robbing nature and the future was
The inevitable social, political, and
environmental conflagration resulting from
decades of misrule ignited in July 1997.
Forest fires set by loggers clearing rainforest to
create export crop plantations roared out of
control amid a drought. Some are still burning.
Effects of the fires compounded the
drought damage, crippling agriculture as well
as forest-related industries. First the resourcebased
sector of the Indonesian economy, then
the money markets, and finally the whole
economy of Asia blew up in smoke.
The Suharto regime was the most
notable political casualty. But economic instability
and weak law enforcement only brought
animal and habitat abuse more into the open.
Agents of the government were, as
always, the most aggressive perpetrators.
Sending a message to insurrectionminded
foes, East Flores regent Henke Mukin
in May 1998 ordered the massacre of an estimated
170,000 longtailed macaques, 150,000
street dogs, and 100,000 cats due to an alleged
but largely unconfirmed outbreak of rabies.
More than 5,000 animals were actually killed.
A mid-October 1998 purge of at
least eight alleged sorcerers and the cats they
supposedly turned into, in Turen, Java, drew
page one coverage in The New York Times,
yet by contrast involved less actual bloodshed
than cruel “pranks” and New York City-area
drug deals gone bad during Halloween.
Commenting on the Wall Street
Journal expose, World Wildlife Fund scientist
Timothy Jessup told The Straits Times o f
Singapore that “The destruction of Indonesia’s
ecosystems is a biological tragedy without parallel
in human history. In terms of species
extinction, nothing on this scale has happened
since an asteroid impact wiped out the
dinosaurs 60 million years ago.”
The biological evidence is obvious,
even from the air, in coral reefs dynamited
and poisoned to capture tropical fish, the
smoking stumps of forests, and soil erosion on
stripped––and sometimes strip-mined––mountainsides.
Researchers including Jessup, Rob
Lee of the New York-based Wildlife
Conservation Society, and internationally
reputed “orangutan lady” Birute Galdikas have
documented the recent marked decline of all
well-known Indonesian species, from orangutans,
tigers, and Asian rhinoceroses down to
Similar damage is evident in
Malaysia and the Philippines.
But the biggest “dinosaur” amid this
wave of extinction may be WWF, whose conservation
approach based on “sustainable
development” ranks second as an influence
only to family-linked corruption in formulating
the wildlife policies of Asia and Africa.
Indigenous approaches to conservation
and animal protection are rising amid the
bankrupt wreckage of strategies which sought
to conserve wildlife and habitat as a purported
source of wealth instead of for intangible values––one
of which is “be kind to animals.”
Attitudes have changed in Indonesia
since 1965, when Suharto and cohorts took
power by redirecting mob wrath at the former
Sukarno dictatorship toward ethnic Chinese,
bringing a purge of “Communists” that
claimed up to half a million lives. Hundreds
of businesses were looted and burned and
innocent individuals hurt or killed, yet alleged
government agents provocateur were for the
most part unsuccessful in attempting to spark
similar diversionary strife via organized gang
rapes and arsons as the Suharto regime toppled
last spring. Soldiers were conspicuously reluctant
in most confrontations to shoot at student
Somehow violence fell out of fashion––even
among rioters who threw water at
police after eight demonstrators were shot on
They threw water, a student journalist
named Ekey told Seth Mydans of The New
York Times, because the shooting was “brutal,
Added a 17-year-old named Andri,
“I see the police as a cruel person. I hate him.”
More aggressive rioters reportedly
did hurl more damaging items, including
rocks and firebombs. Anti-animal rhetoric
rose in a chant that the police were dogs.
But the fighting ended in songs and
embraces among police and protesters, wrote
Though some Indonesians eat dogs,
whom The Wall Street Journal o b s e r v e d
trussed in markets, young educated Jakartans
seem to view dogs as family, who may be
scolded and punished, but not harmed.
The World Wildlife Fund cannot
fairly be blamed for the current Asian financial
crisis, nor for attitudes and practices which
evolved hundreds and even thousands of years
ago. Yet WWF may be culpable for attempting
to build an Asian conservation movement
on a weak foundation––by design––instead of
upon the stronger foundation left in much of
Asia by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains.
Formed in 1961, WWF is perhaps
the richest and most influential legacy of the
former British empire. No other nongovernmental
organization has as many offices in as
many nations, or even half as many. None
have the ears of as many governments.
But few others started with comparable
advantages. The founding clique assembled
by trophy hunter and wildlife painter
Peter Scott included Prince Phillip of Britain,
Prince Rainier of Monaco, Prince Bernhardt
of The Netherlands, and whaling magnate
Aristotle Onassis, whose business was discreetly
described by U.S. media as “shipping”
after he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the
widow of former President John F. Kennedy.
The founding philosophy was simple:
to preserve trophy hunting, as practiced
by the monied elite, in the newly independent
nations of the British Commonwealth. This
would be accomplished by raising funds from
U.S. and European animal lovers, on the
premise of protecting habitat, and then funneling
the money to cooperative governments
––i.e., governments willing to manage habitat
to produce a perennial surplus of popular target
species, who might then be hunted by
those who could afford the trip.
The plan was modeled after the success
of hunter/conservation organizations in
the U.S., which rose in response to an almost
successful “ban hunting” movement in New
York state toward the end of the 19th century.
By 1936, when hunting writer Ding Darling
founded the National Wildlife Federation, the
strategy of controlling wildlife policy by taxing
hunting equipment to partially pay for
habitat acquisition and maintenance was
already in place––and hunters, visibly paying
the piper, got to call the tune, even though the
greater portion of government conservation
work was funded by taxpayers.
Hunter clout was so strong that within
11 years of the 1947 formation of Defenders
of Wildlife to oppose trapping, hunters took
over the Defenders board and excised antitrapping
and anti-hunting language from the
Animal protection donors were left
to support hunter/conservationism or nothing.
The central point of the hunter/conservationist
philosophy, then as now, was that wildlife
should “pay for itself” through utilitarian use.
for a few generations, more-or-less, in North
America, where the prevailing JudeoChristian
tradition reinforced the utilitarian
perspective. Wildlife management evolved
essentially as an application of agricultural
theory to nature, imposing human intervention
to balance the supply of wildlife with the
demand for hunting recreation.
In Asia and Africa, however,
hunter/conservationism had to compete with
other belief systems. Most problematic for
WWF were traditions, especially strong in
India, allotting intrinsic value to animals.
Islamic beliefs about animals, rising
from common origins with Judeo-Christianity,
gave WWF policy-level entry into India,
where 90% of the population are Hindus yet
Moslems have dominated wildlife management
since the time of the Rajahs.
Predominantly Islamic Asian nations
including Indonesia and Malaysia also readily
accepted WWF cash and influence.
Confucian utilitarianism, easily
adapted to either Communist or capitalist outlook,
helped WWF gain in nations with an
ethnic Chinese majority.
Then came a problem. In North
America and Africa, selling trophy species to
hunters seemed to be a successful conservation
strategy for some years because the major
demand during that time was in fact from
hunters, whose primary interest was in the
process of stalking and killing, rather than in
the remains. Most hunters were satisfied to
pay modest license fees to shoot relatively
abundant deer, “small game,” and waterfowl.
Higher fees for “big game” kept demand
below levels of human predation which might
have brought the extinction of species. Only
recently has an export traffic in bear paws and
galls, antlers, and animal penises created a
demand for parts which jeopardizes both
species and the system.
In parts of Asia, certain parts of
bears, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and other
rare species have long had strong mercantile
value, especially in connection with the practice
of traditional medicine. As economic
development increased the ability of Asians to
buy traditional medicines and other wildlifebased
symbols of status, such as ivory sealing
stamps, trophy hunters were outbid. Selling
the tusks of any dead elephant, for instance,
came to be more lucrative than selling the
rights to legally hunt an elephant.
Having popularized the idea of selling
wildlife, WWF now had to try to explain
why wildlife should not necessarily be sold to
the party willing to pay the highest price.
By and large, WWF has not succeeded.
Efforts to promote “regulated” sales
of “culled” wildlife products have whetted
demand for wildlife parts, increasing poaching.
The argument that wildlife should “pay
for itself” has allowed politicians to grant public
use of wildlife parks as vote-buying largess.
Without WWF, the economic crisis,
administrative corruption, and human population
pressure now afflicting Asia might all be
quite as problematic for wildlife, but the prevailing
conservation rhetoric might never have
encouraged economic exploitation of animals
in the name of saving them.
Without WWF monopolizing
wildlife-related policymaking, other voices
and perspectives might have emerged sooner.
Veggies in China
They are emerging now. Of particular
promise is a resurgence of ethical vegetarianism
in China, where the devoutly vegetarian
Buddhist monks of Shaolin developed karate
circa 600 A.D., to defend themselves without
use of weapons. Communist dictator Mao Tse
Tung repressed the monks of Shaolin much as
he also did the Tibetan Buddhists, many of
whom are likewise vegetarian. Deriding sentiment
toward animals as bourgeois, Mao initiated
his reign with a purge of dogs, encouraged
follow-up dog massacres at approximate
five-year intervals thereafter, urged peasants
to eat songbirds, and reputedly had empathy
only for cats, who made themselves useful by
killing mice and rats, and uttered his name
whenever they “spoke.”
Today, however, the 78 resident
Shaolin monks have approximately 400 students,
and their wooden buildings are among
China’s leading tourist attractions.
Los Angeles Times reporter Henry
Chu, visiting China, recently found many
more hints of rising vegetarianism.
China, Chu explained, is “a society
so racked throughout history by famine and
poverty that conspicuous meat consumption is
a symbol of both health and wealth. For many
Chinese who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s,
a vegetarian diet was a product of poverty.”
Today, however, Chu continued,
“champions of vegetarianism are beginning to
make small inroads among sophisticated
urbanites who form the backbone of a growing
new middle class. They dine at chic vegetarian
eateries that have opened in major cities
across China, from Beijing to Guangzhou
province. Shanghai alone, the country’s most
cosmopolitan and forward-looking metropolis,
is now home to 10 such restaurants––and
could do with many more to tap the emerging
vegetarian market, according to an official
with the city’s Hotel Association.”
Chinese vegetarian evangelism,
Chu discovered, “is rooted in traditions dating
back more than 1,000 years. In the seventh
century,” Chu wrote, “the famous Tang
Dynasty physician Sun Simiao extolled the
virtues of vegetarianism in his 60-volume trea –
tise Prescriptions Worth More Than Gold.
Records show that Sun, who studied medicine
after surviving a sickly childhood, lived to the
age of 101.”
But the basis of most Chinese vegetarian
belief still seems to be the Buddhist
injunction “Do not harm any sentient being,”
the motto Chu found on a sign outside Green
Heaven, reputedly the first veggie restaurant
in Beijing, opened in 1995.
“Vegetarians in China have gained
the unlikeliest of allies,” Chu noted, in the
Communist government itself.
It may be that the Chinese rulers are
now mindful of the potential environmental
and economic consequences should Chinese
people begin to consume meat at anything
close to the U.S. per capita rate.
Whatever the case, The People’s
Daily, the official Chinese Communist newspaper,
on November 24 editorialized that,
“The big issue facing us is how to become a
civilized people quickly with a fast developing
economy. The saying ‘Cantonese dare to eat
anything is no praise for the Cantonese. It is a
warning for rare birds and animals not to go to
Commented the Sapa-DPA news
service, “If an alien were captured in China,
Shanghai natives would dissect him for medical
research, Beijingers would send him to a
museum as an educational exhibit, and the
Cantonese would ask, ‘Which part of this
creature can be braised in brown sauce?’”
Directly linking meat-eating with
harm to wildlife, People’s Daily reported that
21,514 people were punished last year in
Guangdong alone for poaching; five of them
drew the death penalty, which is imposed for
killing highly endangered animals such as
Consumer demand in China for
wildlife-based medicines has been joined by
growing interest among the nouveau riche i n
fur garments. The government has encouraged
formation of mink ranches and an export-oriented
Though there was apparently no
native protest, PETA activists Toni Vernelli,
26, and Karla Waples, 23, stripped in
dramtic objection fur-wearing at the March
1998 Hong Kong International Fur Fair, and
told media they hoped to do it in Tienanmen
Whether or not the effort was effective
in dissuading prospective fur-wearers, it
did attract attention in a society where public
nudity is almost unheard of.
An indigenous Chinese animal rights
movement may still be years off, but the
Beijing Animal Rescue Group emerged in
mid-1998, apparently hoping to start one.
Early activities included monitoring restaurants
in hopes of rescuing wildlife slated for
illegal slaughter and sale, and starting an animal
therapy program at a Beijing school for
the mentally handicapped.
The latter, reported David Rennie of
the London Daily Telegraph, “is revolutionary
in China, where most children are brought up
to fear dogs. Cruelty toward animals remains
part of daily life, and there are no laws against
it.” Pet dogs are rare, especially in Beijing,
where since 1995 a dog license has cost the
equivalent of an average worker’s annual
salary, daylight dog-walking is illegal, and
only small breeds may be kept.
But pet therapy may be an idea
whose time has come, as the seven-year-old
Animals Asia Foundation of Hong Kong has
also begun introducing handicapped children
to trained therapy dogs. The AAF program
sessions are held monthly at a bear sanctuary
the foundation manages south of Guangzhou.
Even in Cambodia, one of the most
impoverished and politically troubled nations
of the world, animal protection seems to be
In March 1998, Phnom Penh restauranteur
Soeurn Simeth boasted to media that
despite an agriculture ministry pledge to set up
a special police unit to enforce antipoaching
laws, corruption would allow him to sell as
much wildlife meat as he could obtain.
“If I am asked to sign an agreement
to stop selling, I will,” Simeth told Huw
Watkin, Mekong region reporter for the South
China Morning Post, “but I am not worried.
If government officials come, I will just give
Added one of Simeth’s customers,
Cambodian army major Kun Daravan, “If you
have the money, you can eat anything.”
The open defiance had consequences.
Within days the Taronga Park Zoo of
Sydney, Australia, dispatched senior keeper
of Asian animals Caroline Shemwell to Phnom
Penh to help officials orchestrate a crackdown.
At the Phnom Tamao Zoo, about 30 miles
from Phnom Penh, a British organization
called Free The Bears built a special enclosure
for any bears who might be liberated from
restaurants offering fresh bear paw soup. A
sympathetic Chinese merchant funded an
undercover investigation that videotaped the
owners of four restaurants accepting orders for
bear paw soup. A series of raids followed, in
which sun bears, an Asiatic black bear, a
barking deer, gibbons, pythons, hog badgers,
and rare birds were seized.
Unfortunately, Cambodian law
required that the restauranteurs, rather than
being fined, received compensation for 20%
of their loss of “merchandise.”
The Chinese merchant paid.
The 20% compensation requirement
has rendered the 1994 Cambodian prohibition
of traffic in more than 100 officially protected
species meaningless, wildlife protection chief
Sun Hean lamented a year ago, and little has
changed since then.
The Cambodian government can’t
afford to seize animals. Thus the only reported
seizures in all of 1997 were apparently those
sponsored by U.S. casino consultant Randy
Steed, who sent three sun bears to the Taronga
Because seized animals must in
effect be bought from criminals, rewarding
them for their crimes, international animal
protection organizations have refused to be
involved. Involvement could make a U.S.-
based organization liable for violating the
Endangered Species Act.
Cambodia has so many problems
that strengthening wildlife protection law may
seem to be far down on the political agenda.
But public response to the limited enforcement
efforts thus far seems to have been positive.
The Tamra Maew
The most developed humane community
in Indochina is in Thailand, where
devout Buddhists began sheltering animals
soon after bringing their religion from India
more than 2,300 years ago.
The Thai tradition of according status
to animals was recalled in October when
Bangkok bookstores received copies of T h e
Legend of Siamese Cats, a new volume by
Martin Clutterbuck which consists largely of
his English translation of the Tamra Maew.
“Thought to have been written during
the Ayuthaya period (1350-1767), it is
arguably the world’s oldest historical text
devoted soley to cats,” said the Sapa-DPA
The book arrived more-or-less coincidental
with the first anniversary of the formation
of the Bangkok-based Siamese Cat
Lover’s Club, now claiming 100 members.
Warfare and poverty have often disrupted
Thai projects on behalf of animals, and
present economic straits threaten to do likewise.
The 1,800 dogs and 200 cats at the Tung
Sikan no-kill shelter in Kanchanaburi province
were by mid-1998 reportedly reduced to a diet
of rice and vegetables, as donations fell 90%
from the pre-crisis level.
The shelter is chiefly funded by
retired Bangkok governor and military general
Chuom Long, who toppled the former Thai
dictatorship in 1992, and is directed by his
wife, Sirilak Srimuang. Even before the current
hard times, Long and Srimuang spent
approximately 15 times as much money as
supporters gave them to keep the shelter open.
Sympathetic Bangkok media published
repeated appeals for the shelter, whichwelcomes
foreign help too, at 117 Moo 7,
Ban Pu Pradoo, Tambon Nongbua, Muang
district, Kanchanburi 71190, Thailand.
Another Thai sheltering organization,
Friends of the Asian Elephant, runs an
elephant hospital and hospice at Lampang with
help from A Taste of Thai, a U.S.-based
maker of Thai-style frozen foods, rice mixes,
sauces, and seasonings. Company owner
Frank Landrey donates $3,000 to $5,000 a
month from his receipts, according to the
American SPCA magazine Animal Watch.
The hospital/hospice reportedly handles about
30 sick, elderly, and/or neglected and abandoned
ex-work elephants per year.
Such efforts could be considered
quaint, contrasted with the magnitude of
Asian humane and conservation dilemmas.
But they convey a message that pay-to-shoot
does not: that animal life has value, and is to
be respected. They shift the footing of conservation
from economics to ethics.
In religious societies, that matters.
That is why on November 29
approximately 700 villagers from Tambon Saieb
in Song district followed about 20 environmental
activists into a portion of the Mae Yom
National Park which is scheduled to be logged
in preparation for flooding by the soon-to-bebuilt
Kaeng Sua Ten hydroelectric dam. For
the third time in three years, they ceremonially
wrapped teak trees in the saffron robes of
Ordaining the trees will probably not
save them. Yet it conveys the message that
protected habitat is sacred to even the poorest
Thais, and that development, no matter how
potentially beneficial in the long run, even to
wildlife, must be treated as a matter of moral
as well as monetary consequence.