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  The Star 3 Oct 06
Making a difference
By Hilary Chiew

The Star 3 Oct 06
On a mission: about ACRES
By Hilary Chiew

SINGAPOREANS these days are likely to link wildlife campaigns to a homegrown group rather than the established west-based environmental organisations.

The locally established Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is pushing animal issues into the national consciousness of a society often perceived as materialistic.

From radio advertisements to billboards, exhibition at public places and talks at schools, Acres is showing Singaporeans their ugly treatment of animals.

Since its establishment in 2001, its teams on wildlife rescue, zoo check, and research and education have rolled out campaigns to make the country an animal-friendly city-state. Acres, a member of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, aims to end illegal wildlife trade through undercover investigations. It also assists the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) with confiscation of illegally held animals.

”Undercover investigation revealed an alarmingly widespread trade in endangered species in pet shops all over Singapore, with one in five shops selling protected species. As of December, the team has responded to more than 50 cases and rescued over 150 animals, including monkeys, snakes, iguanas, turtles, tortoises, squirrels, sugar gliders, tarantulas and geckos,” says Acres president and executive director Louis Ng.

Its Wild but not Free campaign highlights the trade in endangered species as pet, food and medicine. Replica models and informative panels depicting cruel ways in which wild animals are smuggled have been displayed in more than 70 exhibitions and talks at community centres and shopping malls.

Acres believes that informed citizens will not abuse animals and will even report wildlife crime through its 24-hour rescue hotline.

The group has taken on big establishments like Singapore Zoo and Sentosa Island Underwater World. Among its achievements is the cancellation of the cheetah contact session and the circus-style animal shows at the zoo and Night Safari.

Visitors to Underwater World are reminded that dolphins acquired from the wild are “suffering and not smiling” as they perform.

Acres zoo check team has not only exposed appalling captive conditions of zoos and aquariums throughout Asia but also investigated the conditions of surplus chimpanzees supplied by Singapore Zoo to regional zoos in Indonesia, Malaysia and China.

“Ten chimpanzees sent away were visited and all were found to be living in sub-optimal conditions, many in barren, concrete cages with no enrichments. “Subsequent meetings with the parties in question resulted in improvements of enclosures. Singapore Zoo also assured that it would take steps to safeguard the well-being of animals sent to other zoos,” shares Ng.

Acres will open its first wildlife rescue centre soon to house animals confiscated from illegal trade, as facilities like Singapore Zoo are now full.

The Star 3 Oct 06
Making a difference
By Hilary Chiew

WHEN Louis Ng volunteered his time to work with animals at Singapore Zoo in 1999, little did he know that it would change his life.

The stint exposed him to the training of African great apes for photo sessions with zoo visitors. The chimps were separated from the family group.

“The plight of Ramba, a young female, affected me tremendously. When I found her lips bleeding during training, I could no longer sit back and let it happen,” recalls Ng.

He wrote to several animal welfare organisations and got a reply from the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) which provided him with some funds to run an exhibition in Singapore to create awareness on the plight of apes.

It took about two years of campaigning before Singapore Zoo ended the use of chimpanzees in photography sessions.

“In 2001, the zoo released Ramba, who had spent years away from her mother, back in the main enclosure area. I saw them affectionately grooming each other. They still recognised each other after all those years apart and I was very touched."

“I felt I had made a difference in the life of a sentient being and that if I continued to put my heart and soul into it, I could help more animals.”

The success of the first campaign strengthened Ng’s resolve to spend the rest of his life helping animals. He went on to form the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) with nine other Singaporeans.

“My first step towards becoming an advocate for animals was when I saw a programme on turtles being slaughtered for food. I gave up turtle soup and over the following years, eliminated all animals from my meals,” says the vegetarian.

The executive director of Acres reveals that he was inspired by the work of Dian Fossey with mountain gorillas when, at 14, he watched the film Gorilla in the Mist. This led to his choice of a biology degree at the National University of Singapore and then a Masters degree in primate conservation.

“My parents were concerned that I would not have a bright future in the field of animal welfare. I convinced them that this was what I really wanted to do with my life and today, while they still have concerns with my salary, they are supportive of what I’m doing,” adds the 28-year-old.

Ng’s interest in ending the plight of less prestigious primate species has resulted in the repatriation of a vervet monkey to the African continent and a rhesus macaque to India.

ACRES needs support for Wildlife Rescue Centre Email from Louis Ng 22 Sep 06
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