ACRES & Lao Zoo set up Vientiane centre to curb illegal wildlife trade

Channel NewsAsia 28 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore animal welfare group ACRES and Lao Zoo have set up the first Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre in Vientiane, Laos.

ACRES, which stands for Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the ACRES Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre (AWREC) in Laos on Wednesday.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam and Laos Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr Thongloun Sisoulith were present at the ceremony.

"I am delighted to have witnessed the MOU signing between the Lao Zoo and Singaporean charity ACRES," said Mr Shanmugam. "The Bear and Wildlife Protection Programme under the MOU is a timely initiative. Wildlife and environmental conservation is an increasingly important issue, so the joint effort is very encouraging."

Under the agreement, the five-hectare AWREC will provide sanctuary to animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, with a focus on rescuing bears.

ACRES said AWREC will also serve as an educational facility to create awareness on the wildlife trade, environmental protection and a host of animal protection issues.

It will have exhibits on a animal protection issues and conduct educational talks, skits and performances to create awareness and inspire the community to make a difference.

ACRES will also provide technical assistance to operate and manage the Lao Zoo and improve the welfare of animals in the zoo.

A Wildlife Crime and Rescue Hotline will be set up to help combat the illegal wildlife trade by allowing those who know of anyone who buys, owns or trades in protected species to report the matter.

ACRES and the Lao Zoo will work closely with the Wildlife Conservation Division of the Department of Forestry Conservation of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for all project activities.

Executive Director of ACRES, Mr Louis Ng, said he's confident that the partnership will strengthen ties between Singapore and Laos and help curb the illegal wildlife trade.

He said ACRES will be hiring at least 24 Laotian members of staff to work with its Singapore team.

ACRES said Laos boasts one of the least disturbed ecosystems in Asia.

However, this biodiversity is under threat, as Laos is emerging as a source country in Asia's illicit wildlife trade.

ACRES said this trade is taking a heavy toll on its wildlife.

It said if left unchecked, current trends in the illegal trade will result in biodiversity and economic loss.

Acres lends a hand to create sanctuary for rescued bears
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 29 Mar 12;

BANGKOK: A wildlife refuge for bears rescued from painful captivity where their bile is extracted will soon open in Vientiane. It will be able to house up to 200 bears in spacious forested enclosures.

The Acres Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre (Awrec) is a partnership of three groups - Singapore's Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), a Thai wildlife organisation called Love Wildlife Foundation, and the privately run Lao Zoo.

This is the first time a Singaporean animal welfare organisation has gone international.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, on an official visit to Laos, yesterday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the new centre. He was joined by Dr Thongloun Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Laos.

'Wildlife and environmental conservation is an increasingly important issue, so the joint effort is very encouraging,' Mr Shanmugam told The Straits Times by phone. 'This (animal welfare) is everybody's business and I welcome NGOs and citizens playing a role.'

He added that those working on these issues outside Singapore should do so within the context of local laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Keeping bears in captivity and extracting bile from their gall bladders is a common practice across mainland South-east Asia and China. The bile is in demand in China for its alleged medicinal properties.

But the bears live for most of their lives in cages in which they can hardly move, and the daily bile extraction is carried out via catheter and is extremely painful.

Wildlife and animal rights groups have long campaigned against the practice, with some success in China, where a recent public outcry stalled the initial public offering of a firm that made pharmaceutical products using bear bile.

There are an estimated 200 bears in bile farms in Laos - although no exact figures are available. 'Some are legal and some are not,' Acres executive director Louis Ng said.

The 5ha Awrec site is adjacent to the Lao Zoo, which owns the land. It will be developed into forested enclosures and be operational hopefully in six months' time, he said.

The new centre will also take in other rescued wildlife, and plans to work with field biologists and other NGOs on reintroducing some species to the jungles of Laos - a country with rich biodiversity under threat from illegal logging and extraction of wildlife.

Acres will also provide technical assistance in terms of improving enclosures and medical care at the Lao Zoo. The Love Wildlife Foundation in turn will focus on developing educational programmes. A new wildlife crime and rescue hotline will also be set up to help combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Mr Shanmugam, who is on a two-day visit to Laos, has met Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong to discuss ways to further bilateral cooperation.

Both men also exchanged views on issues such as the importance of Asean achieving its community-building targets, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.

Dr Thongloun, in his meeting with Mr Shanmugam, spoke about Laos' development priorities, and expressed appreciation for Singapore's help in its capacity-building efforts, particularly in the field of human resource development, said the MFA statement.