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A city meowing for help

Shahudha Mohamed
20 January 2019, MVT 10:07
A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION
Shahudha Mohamed
20 January 2019, MVT 10:07

Walking along the bustling roads of the capital, stepping over the various pipes and squeezing between barrages of closely parked motorcycles, one is sure to occasionally come across a curious animal with eyes glinting in the strong, tropical sunlight: a cat.

Male’ City’s stray cat problem has grown increasingly more problematic with time. Stray cats prowl the city, with no one to take care of them, feed them, or monitor their health and safety. This abundance of strays are not only limited to Male’ City but extend to Hulhumale’ as well.

A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION

This has been a largely ignored problem that could potentially lead to the spread of diseases, harmful for both cats and humans alike. It leads to various hygiene problems and causes major inconveniences to people, as these felines raid dumpsters and dustbins for food. Little children that excitedly interact with these creatures risk being exposed to worms and other infections. Cats and kittens that struggle to cross the road during heavy traffic increase the risk of road accidents.

Pet owners largely contribute to this problem when they release their cats out onto the streets. People usually resort to this manner of "freeing" their cats when the poor things contract diseases for which owners cannot provide treatment. Often times, those who carelessly adopt kittens without proper knowledge on how to take care of them, abandon their pets when they grow up with behavioural problems. In some cases, less devoted individuals simply grow bored with their pets. The problem of strays is becoming more and more of an issue, especially since they breed to produce litter that end up as homeless kittens on the street.

A Twitter user calls to establish a cat shelter in Maldives. IMAGE/TWITTER

The idea of establishing a cat shelter has been put forward by many animal lovers in hopes of the government taking notice and building a home for cats. This could help tackle the stray cat issue, further providing an opportunity for owners who cannot look after their pets to give them up, and people who want new pets to adopt. This would create a win-win-win situation where the cats, the owners, and those looking to adopt, all benefit from the cat shelter.

A lot of people also argue that a cat shelter has been long overdue and that it is negligence on every government’s part that a cat centre has not been established to this day.

A hint of comfort

The stray cat problem aside, Maldivians struggle greatly to take care of our pets as well. The lack of a properly established veterinary clinic, up until recently, proved to be a significant hardship for pet owners since a lot of households have pets (most commonly cats, birds and rabbits), and the need to provide them with proper healthcare is vital. Shortage of properly trained staff in the past has hindered the provision of adequate treatment of these animals, and any such pets that develop a severe condition could not be given proper medical attention, such as surgeries, leading to death in many cases. It is truly heartbreaking to know that an animal’s life could have been saved if proper health facilities had been available, with experienced veterinary surgeons on hand.

In the past, this problem was addressed by Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, which operated a ‘Mobile Veterinary Service’ for a number of years, where a visiting veterinarian would attend to owners calling in with sick pets. However, due to the number of appointment requests and the spatial dispersion of the population in the Maldives, a number of concerns were raised by the public over the years, regarding difficulty in accessing the service, inability to perform surgeries and other such limitations.

A user expresses frustration over lacking vet services in Maldives. IMAGE/TWITTER

Following these complaints, the previous Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Mohamed Shainee, announced plans to open a veterinary clinic along with a herbarium in 2016, and again in 2017. However, the government failed to fulfil these promises.

Following the change of government after the 2018 elections, a temporary veterinary clinic was established by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration due to numerous complaints raised by pet owners. Establishing such a clinic became a necessity since health and safety regulations neither permit performing surgeries during house visits nor carrying anaesthesia required for procedures.

A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION

The long-awaited veterinary clinic was officially opened on January 10, 2019, answering the prayers of many pet owners in the Maldives. The clinic was established in the Fisheries Research Center in Villimale, and is equipped to treat any animals that are commonly kept as pets by Maldivians. This facility offers vaccination services, neutering, and other common procedures for all kinds of pets.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Minister of Fisheries, Zaha Waheed, stated that the motive behind opening the clinic was to meet growing public demand for veterinary services rather than generating a profit.

As of now, the consultation fee is MVR 50, and any services, including neutering, cost MVR 100. Moreover, this clinic will provide anaesthetic drugs and sensitive medication with import restrictions, as well as host surgeries.

Noting that the temporary clinic will not provide a sustainable income, Minister Zaha expressed hope for interested individuals to “start providing veterinary services as a business,” to meet the ever increasing demand from the public.

Animal abuse

Animal cruelty has also become a huge issue in the country over recent years. During the month of January, there were reports of brutal serial killings and beatings of stray cats in Male’ City and other parts of Maldives, either as a sport or for entertainment, igniting heated debates on social media about those responsible.

A user condemns the recent killings of stray cats in Male'. iMAGE/TWITTER

Amidst video footage and photographic evidence of cruelty to cats which were zealously circulated on social media, cataholics harshly condemned the brutal acts and called for proper investigations and consequences for those involved. Numerous individuals emphasized that brutal animal killings stem from psychological issues that may escalate to gang violence, murder, or serial killings.

Singer and animal rights activist condemns the recent killings of stray cats in Male'. iMAGE/TWITTER

Maldives Police Service announced that they were investigating the crimes, after a group of cat lovers submitted a petition, urging the police to take the matter seriously. However, no arrests have been made as of yet.

A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION

According to the Maldivian Penal Code’s section 625, cruelty to animals is a Class 3 misdemeanour that is punishable by jail time up to 3 months. Despite the offence and penalties stated clearly, the law is hardly ever enforced and these crimes are barely investigated, let alone the culprit found and punished accordingly. The public, especially the animal lovers, react very strongly every time such a crime is committed, but authorities have failed on many occasions to conduct a thorough investigation and sentence the culprits, leading citizens to believe that the government’s empathy does not extend to animals.

Similarly, many offences are committed against marine creatures which are protected by law as well. Maldives comprises 99 percent sea, which is home to a rich biodiversity of life, including mantas and whale sharks. Various species, dive sites, islands and wetlands are protected under environmental law. However, a declaration does not guarantee protection and the activities in these sites must be regularly monitored. Numerous cases surface every year about illegal fishing, shark finning and butchering of turtles. Often times these crimes are not adequately investigated, and the culprits get away scot-free.

Where are the laws?

In the sunny side of life, there are no laws mentioned in the constitution about the import and export of certain animals. Maldives Customs Service regulations prohibit the import of dangerous animals, and any live animals require a valid sanitary certificate and approval by the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture.

Nevertheless, various ‘exotic’ animals are illegally imported into the country, which oftentimes are dangerous, difficult to maintain or unable to acclimatize to the Maldives. They are mostly imported on the whims of animal fanatics who regrettably do not have the proper means or education required to take sufficient care of such animals.

A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION

In 2014, Maldives Police Service conducted an operation with the assistance of Maldives Customs Service, the then Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, and Ministry of Environment and Energy, to find and confiscate dangerous animals that were imported illegally. Some animals seized in this operation include multiple snakes, owls, iguanas and sugar gliders. The police revealed that some of the animals recovered in this operation were dangerous, and some even venomous. The animals rounded up were executed, triggering public outrage at the barbarity of this act.

The killing of the saltwater crocodile, which was kept in “Kudakudhinge Bageecha”, soon after the incident only added more fuel to the fire. Locals were extremely enraged due to this act, but authorities responded that the crocodile had grown too large and could potentially be a threat.

Despite these events, laws and regulations have still not been put in place to ensure that there is a safe and humane way for unlawfully imported exotic animals to be exported elsewhere. Stricter regulations are necessary to ensure that such creatures are not imported in the first place.

Hell for humans, hell for animals

Pet shops are a display of cruelty in the capital city. Flocks of birds are held captive in cages too small for them, their feathers spilling out through the metal wires. Fish tanks overflow with orange goldfishes, carps, and koi. Bunnies holed up in cages, covered in their own droppings, nibble on leaves. The environment is unhygienic, cramped, and not fit for animals at all. Due to the aforementioned problems, certain pet shops have been reported multiple times for misconduct and mistreatment of animals.

A stray cat in Male' City. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / THE EDITION

The living conditions for most animals in pet shops are best case, less than adequate and, worst case, downright cruel. Heartbreakingly, there are no authorities to monitor pet shops for hygiene, living conditions, or health and safety regulations. Some pet shops shamelessly have exotic birds on display, and authorities are seen to ignore such places, even after multiple reports.There are no officials to monitor how the owners of pet shops conduct their business. Pet shop owners do not operate under a government-issued license, and therefore, can carry out their business however they want to. No laws and regulations are in place stating how the animals should be treated. The lack of guidelines and enforcement allows shop owners to import, sell and market animals in any way they deem fit.

The situation in the Maldives is and always have been dire for animals and animal lovers alike, with stray cats roaming the streets struggling for survival in its unforgiving cities, the lack of laws and regulations, and the absence of a government body monitoring hygiene, health and safety in pet shops. There is much to do to improve these debilitating circumstances, but the recent opening of the veterinary clinic could be a shift in the tide that may potentially lead to better things in the future.

We, as a country, have yet to serve justice to the cats that were butchered on the streets, and cataholics are patiently waiting for the authorities to take in the culprits responsible. It is of utmost importance that we keep raising our voices on behalf of these beautiful creatures until changes are brought about for the better

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