Tag Archives: zoos

A Sustainable Model: Looking South

EVERYTHING is about funding, says wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te bluntly. Wong started the Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan, Sabah in 2008.

Before that, he visited “too many zoos to count” over the space of 17 years, mainly in the US and Asia-Pacific.

His conclusion: the funding model that works is one where funds come from both visitors and government. And the best example of that is the Singapore Zoo, “the best-run zoo in Asia”.

Sun bear conservation

Dr Wong is clear that his centre is not a zoo—it is conservation focussed, and is indeed listed in the latest Malaysian national report on biodiversity as a success story for sun bear conservation.

It has rehabilitated and released seven animals back to the wild.

However, he based the centre’s financing model on that of the Singapore Zoo. Still short of achieving the same rate of success, he was caught overnight when the Covid-19 lockdown dried up visitors and funds for the centre.

But he is convinced the model works.

Startup funds

For starters, the Singapore government had pumped into the park “an astronomical amount of money”, says Dr Wong.

“They decided the whole zoo had to be a profit-making corporation. They need to do that to keep the standard of exhibits and experiences high enough to get people willing to come and pay.”

The Singapore Zoo is therefore able to raise the price of tickets.

“And there is a shop beside every single animal exhibit, so it’s buy-buy-buy everywhere you look. The restaurants are also very nice, so you want to eat there. It is a huge money spending experience.”

All that is necessary though.

Expanding

“With that money, it becomes not just about displaying wildlife, you can do education, which is actually relatively easy. But after that, you can do research and conservation. Conservation needs scientific data to back up actions.”

He says most large zoos in the developed world have a separate research and conservation department.

“But if you want to say, track a sun bear, a single satellite collar costs more than RM10,000. Without the money, without the mechanisms to generate revenue, everything is impossible.”

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 2) I Aquaria and Conservation

Aquaria and Conservation

WHEN IT comes to aquaria, how effective can they be in conservation?

“As a place to do outreach, aquaria are fine, but it’s hard to make a case to confine marine creatures if ultimately, the aquaria does not contribute to species’ survival in the wild,” says marine biologist Quek Yew Aun.

“For example, if you wanted to breed sharks, (artificial) conditions are much more difficult to do so. Then where do you release it? We have yet to fully understand the breeding habits and life cycle of many marine species.”

A challenging realm

Quek, who holds an MSc in biodiversity, conservation and management, adds that the nature of the marine realm makes ex-situ conservation and public participation challenging.

“Compared to the terrestrial realm, we can’t deny that less public attention and subsequently funds, go to marine conservation.”

One of the two largest aquaria in the country, Aquaria KLCC, did for the first time last year, release 20 juvenile and baby brownbanded bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium punctatum) off Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan.

Berita Harian reported that they did this with the Negeri Sembilan Fisheries Department and it was part of the park’s 10-year captive breeding programme. The aquarium did not respond to enquiries for information.

Contradictory messaging?

At the same time, though, Aquaria KLCC depicts sharks in ways that local shark activists decry.

The facility is well-known for their seasonal Insta-friendly publicity events of dressing their shark tank divers in Chinese lion dance costumes during the Chinese New Year and Santa Claus during Christmas.

Meanwhile, its public cage-diving-with-sharks programme is called ‘Cage Rage’ and sports a logo featuring a fierce-looking shark bursting through a cage; its tagline is also ‘I Dare You!’

In the former case, sharks are relegated to adornments, and in the latter, they are depicted as terrifying, angry creatures.

Sustainably funded

Incidentally, neither of Malaysia’s two largest aquaria—the second is Underwater World Langkawi—appealed for donations during the Covid-19 lockdown.

They are both backed by public-listed corporations; Aquaria KLCC itself was even being considered for public listing (see A Sustainable Model—Looking South).

Notwithstanding the fact that the sea is even more inaccessible to urbanites than forests, Quek prefers more immersive experiences.

“For example, you can volunteer for organisations like the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu—Sea Turtle Research Unit.

“Participants sign up to spend an entire week in the Chagar Hutang Research Station (on Pulau Redang), where they will assist in the monitoring of sea turtle nesting, sea turtle measuring and tagging.

“Or join MareCet, who orgainses day trips for the public, where people can join dolphin researchers to spot marine mammals.” MareCet is a research and conservation non-profit focussed on marine mammals and the greater marine environment.

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 1) I A Sustainable Model—Looking South

Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis – should we? (Pt 2)

With huge income loss during the Covid-19 crisis, is it time to look at the role that Malaysian zoos play in wildlife conservation? This is the second of the two-parter on zoos and aquaria in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series.

WITH THE Covid-19 pandemic under control, zoos and aquaria in Malaysia might have averted a funding crisis for now. However, the question remains as to why wildlife is kept captive in the first place.

By definition, a zoo is a place where captive wild animals are exhibited. It is short for ‘zoological park or garden’. Meanwhile, marine animals are exhibited in aquaria.

(Photo: Endangered animals can get a lifeline in zoos, such as these Banteng Bos javanicus in Lok Kawi Zoo, Sabah. Pic by Cede Prudente)

Continue reading Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis – should we? (Pt 2)

Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis—should we? (Pt 1)

Malaysian zoos lost almost all their income due to the Covid-19 crisis but were kept afloat partly by public donations. Was it worth Malaysians giving them millions? This is the first of the two-parter on zoos and aquaria in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series.

IN APRIL, the horrific possibility of animals from elephants to slow lorises starving to death behind bars, shocked Malaysians.

As is the case world-over, zoos and aquaria in Malaysia are heavily dependent on income from visitors. This income vanished overnight when Malaysia implemented measures to contain Covid-19.

The strict movement control order (MCO) that began on March 18, 2020 shut down all public venues, indefinitely at the time.

(Photo: Zoos’ revenues were hit hard during the pandemic, spotlighting the role of these parks in wildlife education and conservation. Pic by Cede Prudente)

Continue reading Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis—should we? (Pt 1)

Taking Stock

THE ENVIRONMENTAL sectors of Malaysia, like the rest of the country, have been shaken by two major events: the Covid-19 crisis and a new government who has yet to set direction.

From activists and scientists to indigenous communities and tour operators, the sectors have and continue to experience uncertainty in the foreseeable future.

In the face of this double challenge, Macaranga is taking stock of environmental sectors in Malaysia in the next few months. We consider the impacts on their operations and plans for the year and their responses to these impacts.

Continue reading Taking Stock