Kadoorie Log #11: Attachment vs Detachment: What Makes for the Best Welfare?

My last week at Kadoorie ended where I began the placement, in the LED (Live Educational Displays). In the beginning I only had a few days in LED but over this last week I was able to gain much more insight into what many of the keepers have to do on a daily basis. It became very apparent that the relationship the people have with the animals is quite different from those in the WARC (Wild Animal Rescue Centre), and perhaps for obvious reasons. In WARC the animals arrive in a crisis, are cared for very closely; and  the hope for them is that they will be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. IMG_4792Caring for animals in WARC requires a level of focused attention as well as emotional distance. We don’t always know what’s going to happen to these animals. Often they come in injured or simply too young to survive  and many do succumb.  This bat was just days old and while he made it through the first night with feeding every hour or so, he didn’t make it through the second. DSCF8509In the best of cases, they get released. Either way, the attachment of the carer can get in the way of making good welfare decisions for the sake of the animals.   A certain kind of caring detachment allows for the focus to stay on the animals and their needs.  Too much attachment, in some cases, can blind the carer to the best welfare for the animal.

However, in LED the relationship between carers and animals is very different as these animals are long term residents. Because these animals are not facing either immanent death (the worst case scenario in WARC) or future release (the best case scenario) attachment is more acceptable, and perhaps even more important to the ongoing health and wellbeing of the animals. Many keepers in LED have emphasized that their closeness with the animals has a positive impact on the level of care they receive. The relationship becomes very intimate as each keeper is assigned to care for the same animals daily. Attachment to the animals allows for more tolerance for the animals at their worst. For example, the monkeys can be very difficult to handle as there are certain orders in which eating and transferring must occur. The monkeys always resist this order so it takes quite a while to succeed at whatever task is at hand. Having a close, intimate relationship with them allows for a greater ability to be patient with them, just as it does with loved ones in human families.IMG_0915

In each department different levels of care are required. The complex relationship between attachment and detachment have been a constant source of debate since we arrived. Both, it turns out, are advantageous but in different scenarios. In WARC, attachment is required at a level that allows for sufficient care of animals who are often in urgent need of support but not to the degree that the big picture surrounding the animal’s welfare is compromised as a consequence of what turns out to be what the humans need rather than the animals. In WARC a kind of attentive and concerned detachment seems to work best if the priority is to focus on the animal’s best interest. In LED where the circumstances are different, a certain level of attachment ends up being the basis for the best care for the animals.  Like people, these animals have personalities which can be frustrating at times. If the keepers were not attached, if they didn’t already care, it would be easy to allow these frustrations to unintentionally impact the level and consistency of care that the animals receive. In the end, the issue of whether or not one should be emotionally attached or detached when caring for animals, comes down to the context in which we encounter the animals.

Krista Bouwman

Kadoorie Log #10: Under the Counter Cruelty

For most of the Western world, the morning starts with a cup of coffee and people do love their brands: Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, McCafe, Pacific Coffee – the list goes on. But as many now know, the conditions of coffee production across the world are profoundly complicated. A handful of developing nations utterly depend on coffee as a primary export i.e., one of the few means by which they can participate in the global economy. So to meet the demand for export dollars as well as the ever increasing appetites of consumers, huge swaths of forest are being turned into plantations. And this doesn’t even touch on the issue of labour exploitation on those very same plantations! Coffee is nothing if not an ethical minefield – hence the burgeoning market for ‘Fair Trade’. But if the human and environmental costs of coffee weren’t enough of an ethical minefield, a newish trendy coffee is being flagged as unethical for a wholly different reason – cruelty to animals.

Kopi Luwak Coffee

Kopi luwak is a type of Indonesian coffee that was popularized in Hong Kong in 2007 after its appearance in the movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, “The Bucket List”. Due to its portrayal as a milestone life experience like seeing The Great Wall of China, or swimming the Great Barrier Reef corporations hopped on the bandwagon transforming this small locally consumed coffee into an intensive factory farmed global initiative. Kopi Luwak was marketed as exotic and prestigious, and became sought after by consumers. The coffee is made by harvesting the undigested coffee beans from the faeces of the masked palm civet, based on the belief that the animal will select only the finest examples of coffee beans, and that these will produce the best coffee. Though this is fairly unusual, removing the coffee beans from stool collected in the forest from wild civet would cause about as much harm as a nature hike. However, because of the time and energy that would be needed to find and collect the scat, the coffee made from it became extremely expensive and sought after boasting an export price as high as $230 per pound (TIME Magazine, November 25th 2012). Ironically the scarcity and price helped to create a demand and once that was in place quantity became more important than the supposed quality. The end result of this is that civets were poached, caged, and force fed nothing but a diet of coffee beans until they were too ill to continue digesting them, and were dumped back into the wild where their weakened state would often result in them dying (SPCA Hong Kong, Pawprint Magazine, Issue 93, Feb. 2014). A diet of only coffee leads to chronic malnutrition as well as illness resulting from the high caffeine intake.

Of the consumers of Kopi Luwak coffee, many would be unaware of the way it’s made. Of those who do know, some are likely to be apathetic regarding the implications for the animal but some might actually be outraged or disgusted enough to stop drinking it. As is so often the case with prestigious brands, however, a few would find the image cultivated by the drink or simply their own enjoyment of it to be worth the exploitation and suffering that went into it. Sometimes, in what seems to be a vague acknowledgement of the true conditions in which it’s produced, the coffee is labeled as ‘harvested from the wild’, but the BBC as well as the animal rights activist group PETA both did research which found that these labels were often fraudulent (BBC, “Civet cat coffee’s animal cruelty secrets”) (PETA, “Help Civets Suffering from Cruel Coffee”).

The SPCA in Hong Kong has pushed public awareness about the ethical issues surrounding Kopi Luwak. Public support due to increased awareness thanks to these efforts and the efforts of other groups has caused Kopi Luwak to be taken off the menu at many expensive cafes and five star hotels, although overall it is still readily available. To further inform consumers, studies in America have shown that in a blind test, people overwhelmingly do not find Kopi Luwak preferable to other coffees. This case study shows how the media can portray an item to play on the desires and emotions of its consumers while never telling the whole story. In the instance of Kopi Luwak, ideas about luxury, prestige, and having the finest things in life have driven the market despite the reality that the product itself is indistinguishable from many other coffees. Given this reality what possible justification can there be for the ongoing suffering of the civets?


A quick Google search will reveal the conditions of factory farms. Go ahead – try it. Search “conditions of cattle on factory farms” or “chicken pens on factory farms” or “battery hens”. The conditions and methods of slaughter will vary from country to country but these cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken, goats, rabbits, emus, and other animals are typically suffering every bit as much as the civets. The meat in North America is usually packaged in neat little styrofoam containers and by the time it is purchased, its resemblance to an actual animal is virtually non existent.  Many North Americans would be outraged or nauseated by the sight of whole animal carcasses or the live animals that are the staple of wet markets, such as the ones here in Hong Kong. The truth is though, there is a very good chance that the animals seen in these places suffered less than the cows those sterile cuts of beef at the supermarket came from. The consumer never has to see the suffering that is caused to the animals in order to obtain so many of our staple food products, and this separation allows many people to go on buying things which facilitate the cruel treatment of animals and the degradation of the environment. And our so called ‘animal protection’ laws allow this. It’s called ‘necessary suffering’ when it’s agricultural animals we are talking about and it’s only unnecessary suffering our animal protection laws address.

This photo dated 07 December 2002 shows a civet sitting inside a cage at a market in Guangzhou, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

This photo dated 07 December 2002 shows a civet sitting inside a cage at a market in Guangzhou, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Because many people really do care about animals, they flock to free range, organic, or certified free trade labels, believing that these labels really do indicate a better quality of life and death for the animals that are the source of these products. But it turns out this is far from the truth. So called ‘compassionate consumer’ labeling practices are often misleading at best, and downright  false at worst. For instance ‘free run’ eggs aren’t happy chickens wandering around in fields. On the contrary they are massive barns jam packed with hens all of whom have still had their beaks burned off soon after hatching and all of whom are living in their own putrid fetid waste a lot of the time.

Chicken Barn

It is hard to condemn consumers for relying on labelling. The time and effort to get beneath the labelling is beyond the scope of many people. So, while labels which give consumers a simple way to make ethical choices might be a step in the right direction, it primarily just gives people a sense of relief from the guilt they feel from knowing the truth about the treatment of livestock and the planet in a global economy which cares more about profit than the conditions of production. Too often sadly, corporations do the bare minimum to put these ‘ethical’ labels on their products, not for the sake of the animals, but to make them more appealing. They have no genuine concern for the animal or the environment, but instead use these often psuedo-ethical labels to increase their prices and gouge consumers who are just trying to do the right thing. It seems nearly impossible to navigate the aisles of a grocery store when so many ‘ethical’ labels and ingredient lists hide more than they reveal. And marketing itself is a whole issue in itself, between the false promises, the appeals to our emotions and desires, and the hidden cruelty, it is hard to feel that we aren’t being tricked constantly by corporations. But we, as consumers do bear some responsibility, especially in the age of the internet where all manner of information about the truth of factory farming is available at a keystroke. Our willingness and our ability to alienate ourselves from the conditions of production allows a variety of unethical practices to continue unimpeded by concerned consumers. Willpower, in combination with access to the truth are important elements to support an ethic that means people have to refuse otherwise desirable things – such as delicious food or prestigious coffee – and when the ethical issues are hidden or blurred by labels with false promises and ritzy beautiful coffee shops it becomes all too easy to just not consider them at all.

It is interesting to see how public pressure has had many successes in limiting the production of Kopi Luwak and convincing people not to buy it while animal cruelty in factory farms remains endemic, despite the overwhelming environmental and ethical reasons to change. There may be some obvious reasons for this – Kopi Luwak is a fad, while the consumption of meat is so deeply embedded human cultures in so many complex ways. Meat consumption is deeply caught up in how we see ourselves as a species and how we relate to others. In a complex interplay of identity politics supported by notions like tradition and power meat eating is inseparable from ideas of class, gender and even ethnicity. Put simply, those who can dominate others eat meat – the rich eat meat because they can afford it but the poor cannot; men eat meat because it is manly to be ‘king of the grill’ and to hunt and kill. Meat eating is one of the buttresses for western notions of cultural superiority. Westerners eat meat and thrive while the rest of the world and especially the developing world, subsists rather than thrive’s on a diet of grains and vegetables. This has more to do with ideology than anything about necessity. And  on top of the complex constructions of meat as desirable, it also tastes good and is sold as a rich source of nutrition. In the end, pleasure seems to be the primary reason for the ever increasing consumption of meat in the world today but the question remains, is human pleasure enough to justify the wholesale suffering of billions of animals let alone the environmental degradation that arises as a consequence of satisfying our voracious appetites. It’s good to remember that “worldwide meat production (beef, chicken and pork) emits more atmospheric greenhouse gasses than do all forms of global transportation and industrial processes.”  (Nathan Fiala, citing the US Food and Agriculture Organization, Scientific American, Feb 2009, Vol 300, Issue 2, p72-75).

Tasha and Karlie


Kadoorie Log #9: Tung Choi Street: The Reality of the Pet Market




L-R: Zack Langille, Michelle Cheng, Jacqueline Ma, Shirley Choi & Shuping Ho

During my stay with the SPCA I had the opportunity to visit Tung Choi Street with Shuping Ho (a researcher at the SPCA) and four SPCA interns, all studying law at Hong Kong University (Jacqueline Ma, Michelle Cheng, Jane Li and Shirley Choi) .  Tung Choi, also known as Goldfish Street, is famous for the sheer number of shops selling all sorts of animals from local species to exotics, but mostly fish and reptiles.  These shops waste no space when it comes to the display of their animals. They are often in small overcrowded tanks and not provided with the proper housing conditions (such as heat and UV lights for reptiles), and many of them are even sick. It is a stark contrast to what pet shops are like in Canada, for the most part. While most of the stores were selling fish and reptiles there were nonetheless plenty of puppies, kittens, rabbits and hamsters also available. Almost all the pups and kittens were high end, very expensive breeds; no mutts in these stores.  While the animals were being kept in clean and reasonably spacious cages out front, our suspicions were that out the back of the stores was another story. It was easy to hear barking from behind the closed doors where customers were not allowed to go. Another suspicious feature of all the pet stores was the ‘no photo’ signs everywhere.

Pet Shops HKPuppies for sale in Mong Kok






During our time at the SPCA we learned that the reality of the origins of those designer pups and kittens in the pet stores is an unregulated puppy and kitten mill industry where animals are kept in shockingly poor conditions. Much of the SPCA’s investigation work is directed towards finding these mills and shutting them down, while their lobbying work is directed towards encouraging the government to regulate breeders. The pictures below depict the real conditions behind the scenes of the Tung Choi pet shops. The SPCA website has lots of information on the pet industry and especially the puppy trade.  Please visit this link for more information on the Boycott the Bad Breeder Campaign http://boycottbadbreeder.com. For information on the upcoming legislative reforms around breeders, see http://www.spca.org.hk/en/outreach/campaigns/spca-hk-urges-for-cap-139b-amendment









Goldfish Street, as the name suggests, is really known for the phenomenal array of fish shops. Many species of fish are put into bags and hung on display on wire racks, often in the baking sun. Not only do the fish end up overheating in water too hot for them, they also run out of oxygen.


This pushes the fish into extremes and ultimately causes their death as they cannot survive either the low oxygen levels, nor rapid temperature changes. At night, once the shops close, the bags are simply cut open and dumped into the street, including the dead or near dead fish. fish To the store owners, the dead fish don’t even put a dent into their pockets as they cost so little in the first place and are sold at a much higher market value. Even if they only manage to sell a few fish and lose considerably more, they are still profiting. While the display practices might be different in Canada – ie we’re not baking fish in the sun in plastic bags, the idea of disposability at the heart of breeding them in vast numbers is the same.IMG_4911

For example, I used to breed fish and would sell some to pet stores. They would purchase the fish from me at $3 apiece and then turn around and sell them for $12.99 apiece.  For them, there is a 430% price increase so with those economies of scale, we can see how individual fish lives become irrelevant in the big scheme of things where profit margins mean more.

From Tung Choi Street our tour of the pet shop trade took a slight detour. While snakes are kept as pets in Hong Kong, just as they are in Canada, they are also eaten. So our HKU law intern friends led the way as we went off in search of the snake soup shops. IMG_4931 Eating snakes is part of traditional Chinese medicine, more specifically it’s a Cantonese delicacy and it supposedly has high nutritional value. Snake eating is a practice more common in the winter and it seems to be decreasing in popularity with the generations. Young people are less inclined to follow this tradition and in fact none of the HKU interns had ever tried it.  The soup typically contains two species of snake, and they could just as well be deadly, along with spices. At the stores we visited, one had ball pythons on display, and the other had cobras. The snakes are kept live in drawers, like the ones in the photo below, until you want to order the soup and are thus killed and prepared fresh.


Turns out, snake soup shops don’t just offer snakes, they also sell steamed crocodile and turtle soup! While eating turtle jelly – a derivative of  the plastron of turtle shells, is fairly common in Asia, the experience of actually eating turtle soup was as new to the interns as it was to us. But we found ourselves in one of those situations where the hospitality of the shopkeeper who welcomed us in to look at the snakes, also put us in the position where we needed to return the favour. When she offered turtle soup – we were in a jam. So the compromise was one bowl and 6 spoons! This was one of those moments where I wish I was vegetarian!    IMG_4952                                   None of us liked it, but the pressure was too great to refuse. Thankfully, Shuping was a champ and finished off the soup for us.


After that experience we went to a local café to rid the taste of the soup! Bring on the Hong Kong version of high tea!DSCF8627

One of the most surprising things about the day was learning that, at least on the face of it, the stores weren’t breaking the law, whether they were selling exotic, Cites listed animals – as many of them were  – or not (Cites is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and is the reference point for regulating the trade in endangered animals).  All the pet stores needed to be lawful was to be licensed by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and as long as the animal can sit down, stand up, turn around and lay down the enclosures then they comply with the existing standards of care required by the animal protections laws. Even the turtles kept in the tiny tanks filled with water were considered ok, because they met the above requirement. So while it seems the pet stores at least comply with certain laws, questions remain about the industry overall. Puppy mills, for example, are also an enormous problem in North America, with Quebec in Canada having the dubious reputation of being the puppy mill capital of the continent. So while pet stores in Canada may not be the primary way puppies and kittens are making it to market, the same problem of designer dogs bred in awful welfare conditions for a seemingly insatiable market applies. And like HK, Canadian animal shelters are full of the very same dogs and cats who later get abandoned or surrendered or dumped – along with their mutt cousins! So whether it’s Cites listed endangered animals whose commercial sale gets around the law because they were supposedly bred in captivity, or puppy mill kittens and puppies whose lives begin in appalling conditions, or goldfish whose lives as individuals simply don’t register as a welfare concern, the gaping holes in the regulation approach to animal welfare seem really apparent. Without the means to implement even the existing regulations, these laws are unable to offer much to the animals who are their subjects.



Kadoorie Log #8: Tricks or Training?: The Challenge of Managing Captive Animals

In the Fauna conservation Department at Kadoorie there are many tasks that must be undertaken to maintain the smooth operation of the facility. One vital task is the training of the different animals that are part of the long term animal facility – the LED (Live Education Display). For some of the larger animals in LED such as: the boars, crocodiles, raptors and monkeys training is an important part of the daily routine. Without the training of these wild animals the daily activities that keep them safe and healthy would be neither efficient or safe for both the keepers and the animals.

Boars: The boars are trained to lift their feet as well as to go in and out of transportation crates. Both of these actions are necessary as each is done to check the health of the animal. Their legs must be lifted in a controlled manner in order to properly check the underside of their hooves, as they are prone to infections. Quite often the boars must be weighed and again, it is important that this happen in a controlled environment. The boars have been trained via food rewards to become familiar with the transportation crates that are used to weigh them. Wild boars can be very aggressive; they could easily and inadvertently threaten the life of the people who are providing the health care they need just by virtue of their size and their tusks.  The hoof lifting and crate training protects the health and safety of both person and boars.


Crates used for handling the Boars









Crocodiles: For some of the crocodilians here at the farm there is quite an unusual trick used in order for the keepers to enter the enclosure. The keepers have trained the crocodiles, when they hear music (Fleur De Lys no less!), to exit their outdoor enclosure and move into an indoor contained area with a door.  When the crocs are inside the keepers are able to enter and clean. Obviously this is a learned behaviour but unlike animals trained for human entertainment – this isn’t a trick. It’s a necessary behaviour that is directed towards enhancing the crocodile’s welfare. It’s good animal centred husbandry. For the crocodile, the alternative would be enduring the daily stress of being captured and re-located, simply in order to clean their home. Clearly, providing an opportunity for the animal to move by itself is an animal centred way of accomplishing the same end. For the keepers this is a more efficient, safer and humane way of providing the crocs with their essential needs in a captive environment.


Jo’s House





Jo, the Caiman

Jo, the Caiman

Raptors: Many of the raptors are undergoing falconry training; this means that they are being trained to come down to the person when beckoned. Again, this is a stress preventative for the raptors and a safety measure for the keeper. This training has another important role as well, which involves education of the public. If the public is able to interact with these winged beasts up close and personal, the hope is that it will inspire a love and appreciation of them and further the possibility of cultivating a conservation ethic – especially in the children. In this regard, Kadoorie’s LED follows the same principle as many zoos. The hope here is that greater exposure to animals will produce greater compassion.


Ella the Kite


Training leg Harness


Debbie, Krista and Ella





Monkey: As discussed in a previous post, there is a very specific order to moving the monkeys around. This goes for transferring them from cage to cage and eating in front of one another. The keepers have trained them to come, sit and stay on their perches. This is necessary because when feeding and transferring cages, the dominant monkeys must go last. Normally, they would go first, however, in this scenario the other monkeys would be too scared to follow. This is the same for feeding; they are currently training the older monkeys to be nicer to Sita (see post #??) during feeding by rewarding them with peanuts when they allow Sita to eat near them. This may seem like it isn’t all that important but it allows the keepers to work safely and effectively with the monkeys. It also encourages positive behaviour between the monkeys and their mates. We have seen the monkeys’ behaviour with the training and they are difficult at best. Without the training it would be near impossible to manage these creatures and keep them happy with each other. Of all the animals at Kadoorie, the monkeys are perhaps the hardest to manage and this is precisely because they have the most complex social structures. Captive environments, let alone ones based on rescue principles, dramatically alter the wild social structures of these primate colonies and so they create stresses and tensions that wouldn’t emerge in the wild. In captivity the goal is to keep everyone alive and relatively content. In the wild, a monkey like Sita probably wouldn’t survive. She would simply be rejected and die.

In previous posts we have spoken of the person-animal relationship and how forcing animals to suppress their instinctive behaviours can affects them negatively. Vast numbers of animals are held in captivity globally in a variety of contexts – from exotic pet ownership to back yard zoos to the city zoos that are part of the human lives of most nations. The Live Educational Displays department at Kadoorie has shown us some of the real world challenges of keeping wild animals in captivity when the focus is on their health and wellbeing rather than human entertainment. Training in this context is essential to everyone’s safety, yet can look a little like teaching animals to do tricks. Though it can be argued that it isn’t right to alter an animal’s so called natural behaviour, when in captivity, the most efficient and least stressful circumstances must be the focus. If an animal’s only option is captivity, these ‘tricks’ become an essential aspect of their wellbeing.

Although, training animals to perform tasks is a common activity found in recreational attractions parks like Canada’s Marineland and Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, the animal training done at Kadoorie can clearly be distinguished by considering the goal. The point here, as noted throughout this post, is different. The point of the training here at Kadoorie – is animal centred, not human centred. Theme parks train their animals for the sole purpose of human entertainment and if there is an interest in the animals health and wellbeing, it’s generally an economic one. Keeping performance animals healthy is good business. At Kadoorie, however, the training of the animals is done for the very important intention of enhancing the well being of the animal without compromising the safety of the people who care for them.


Zack with Ella

It is fascinating to consider the way the issue – the animal that is trained to do a trick – means something very different in different contexts. When the focus is on animal welfare and not on human entertainment, the trained behaviour is just that, trained behaviour. But the very same behaviour in a theme park is indeed a trick and not one that enhances the life of the animal. On the contrary the trick is for us.