KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has passed the Animal Welfare Act 2015 - a new comprehensive Act with heftier fines following a number of high profile animal abuse cases.
The move was welcomed on Tuesday (Jul 7) by animal welfare advocates, though some felt that more needed to be done to educate Malaysians.
Some of the animal abuse cases that have gripped Malaysia in the past few years included dogs with nails lodged in their heads, a kitten photographed in a jar, and stray canines found dead from poisoning.
The new Act spells out a range of guidelines - from cage-size requirements in pet stores to animal transportation. More significantly, it also introduced hefty penalties for a wide range of offences, from neglect to mutilation.
Offenders now face a minimum fine of RM20,000 (more than US$5,200) and possible jail time. The fine was 100 times heavier than what used to be imposed for cruelty under the current Animal Act 1953.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said: "There were so many cases reported in the media, especially social media on animal cruelty. I think for the future, awareness will increase and with the heavier penalties, the offences will be reduced."
However, animal welfare activists are not only worried about explicit acts of cruelty, but also the number of strays, which is a huge problem in the Southeast Asian nation.
Strays are so common that people hardly bat an eye at the sight of them. One shelter in Kuala Lumpur gets about 300 to 400 stray animals every month and a vast majority of them are found wandering on the streets.
Edward Lim, shelter manager at PAWS Animal Welfare Society, said: "It is something very sad. Owners are not doing their part. They should neuter their animal, they should not be letting their animals breed unnecessarily."
Sterilizing pets is not legislated in the new Act, though penalties have been introduced for those who abandon animals.
Animal welfare advocates say the stray problem is partly due to ignorance and partly cultural. Some Malay Muslims still feel spaying or neutering animals is cruel despite Islamic authorities issuing an edict in 2002 allowing the sterilization of animals to prevent more animals ending up on the streets.
Advocates say education is the only way around this issue. Mr Ismail Sabri said: "Members of parliament also suggested to us that animal welfare should be one of the subjects in schools, for example." It is a suggestion that the government is taking seriously.
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