UK documentary exposes poor animal welfare in PH

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at May 21 2014 10:04 AM | Updated as of May 21 2014 06:12 PM

WSPA helped 17,400 animals in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

LONDON - A recent television documentary placed a spotlight on animal welfare in the Philippines after following a group of aid workers who responded in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

In the hour-long documentary, "Vets in the Disaster Zone", a team from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) travelled to the Philippines in November 2013 to assist in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

While in the country, the team observed the poor conditions of animal care in the Philippines, as well as a general lack of knowledge in responding to disasters and emergencies.

"The standards that I saw in the Philippines are very similar to many countries I’ve visited across Asia Pacific," said Dr. Daniel Ventura Jr, Philippine project manager from WSPA.

"Animal welfare is still a fairly new concept in many areas,” he continued. “Most people care for their animals and in the majority of cases, when animals are living in poor standards, it is due to someone not knowing what the animals need.”

Dr Ventura and the WSPA team treated and rescued animals affected by the typhoon disaster. They also laid out long-term plans to educate local communities on emergency management and the protection of animals.

This includes workshops at Aklan State University, training staff at the Veterinary Office of Aklan and Antique, and piloting new typhoon-resistant shelters and SMS early warning systems.

“With frequent typhoons and floods, protecting animals during disasters is critical in the Philippines. We are working already to help communities improve preparedness measures that protect animals and people,” Dr Ventura said.

Beyond the disaster zones, WSPA believes animal welfare across the Philippines could also be improved through education, legislation and enforcement.

The documentary, for instance, showed how most people had little knowledge of appropriate shelter for their animals, whilst livestock in local farms looked cramped and dirty.

“People will feed, water and shelter their animals thinking this is all they require,” observed Dr Ventura. “It is my job to help them understand that good animal welfare is about much more than this. Yes, animals must be free from hunger, thirst, pain, injury and disease, but good welfare also means they must be able to express normal behavior – like enough room to move freely, and interact with other animals.”

He also said Filipinos seemed “open to learning”, and urged the government to enforce legislation and introduce more policies that emphasize the importance of animal welfare in schools, households and farms.

“This helps drive change as people begin to understand animals are worthy of consideration, respect and protection. In the Philippines, an example of this would involve more stringent enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act,” Dr Ventura explained.

The Philippine Animal Welfare Act of 1998, which was updated in 2013, already provides guidance on the rights and protection of animals in the country.

Enforcement of this law, however, remains lax, carried out by a self-described “ad hoc” task force called the Animal Welfare Division (AWD), which operates under The Bureau of Animal Industry of the Department of Agriculture.

According to its website, AWD conducted the most number of inspections, evaluations and monitoring in 2012, but WSPA believes the country needs to do more to truly improve its animal welfare.

Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever hit land, leaving a trail of devastation in the Philippines in November 2013. Official reports estimate more than 4 million people were affected, including 6,000 people who lost their lives and 6 million animals that perished.

WSPA worked in several key areas including Cebu, Leyte, and Panay, providing vaccinations, supplying food and vitamins, and treating animal wounds and injuries. Their immediate response team assisted 17,400 animals.

Vets in the Disaster Zone was aired on BBC2 and BBC iPlayer in the UK.