I am born with what science has yet to diagnose as Tarzanitis (if I were a woman, it would be Jane-o-philia). Symptoms include an impulse to hug trees, irrepressible urge to photograph nature, and an ‘unhealthy’ concern for the welfare of animals.
However, in the hyper-urbanised Singapore, our encounters of nature are rather limited. So to cure my Tarzanitis, I grew up with pets of all shapes and sizes… from guppies to fighting fish to discus to bloated goldfish; from pond shrimps to frogs (hatched from tadpoles) to red-eared sliders; from mum-repelling white mice to hamsters to rabbits (at one time, I had eight of them); from Pomeranian (called Mini) to Poodle (Jack) to Dachshund (Lucky) and my current two princesses, Joy (Miniature Pinscher) and Jack Russell (Rainbow); and not forgetting the kitten and a bird (can’t remember the species) I rescued and kept for a while before letting them go
In my latest fancy for a pet, I was contemplating something more exotic. Something furry with eight legs… the Mexican Red Knee Tarantula. So I started Googling if they are sold in Singapore but instead, got slapped with the Agri-Food & Veterinary of Singapore (AVA)’s list of prohibited pets. Tarantulas are a no-no here.
I was rather disappointed but went on to browse the other links captured by the search and discovered ACRES (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society).
I’ve never heard of ACRES and after reading about the work they do, I was very curious to find out more. So I emailed ACRES to ask for a visit to its facility as it is closed to public and walk-in visits. But I got more than I asked for… I was invited to go on a wildlife rescue mission with the ACRES team!
Would they end up rescuing me instead?
When I think about wildlife, the first images that come to mind are the dusty Afrian safaris grazed by herds of predators and preys . Stray cats lounging at HDB void decks, pigeons tip-toeing housing crevices, and that occasional rat making a dash on the pavement don’t count.
But to ACRES, they are equally cherished. A life is a life, be it fully sustained by nature or well-fed by humans.
For dogs, cats and all critters furry and cute, there’s the SPCA and Cat Welfare Society. But for the less common animals who find themselves in sticky situations or kept illegally as pets, they have no one to champion their welfare. Thankfully, there’s ACRES.
It doesn’t matter if the animal is the common Rock Pigeon, Myna, monitor lizard or a dangerous cobra, ACRES operate on the principle of respect and value of all sentinent lives.
It was a privilege to observe the rescue officers at work as I gained a higher level of sensitivity to the small creatures that share our living space. More than just rescuing the animals, the ACRES team take the opportunity to educate the public about proper care for injured animals and organisations to contact for picking up strays.
Apparently, the AVA is the last place to call if you encounter a stray cat or dog as the agency will usually put the captured animals to sleep.
After a morning following Charlene and Lester on a couple of rescues, Juliana and I arrived at ACRES’ base. We’d rented a car for the weekend to come on this expedition and we felt so Indiana Jonesy riding in a metal horse to explore Singapore’s ‘outback’ where ACRES calls home!
Currently, the premise houses an education centre, an office unit (shared by nine full-time staff), and a treatment and recovery annexe (AWRC). ACRES was supposed to have a permanent shelter for displaced animals but construction was disrupted due to toxic materials used by the builder they engaged.
Out of respect for animals, the centre is vegetarian although it doesn’t require staff to be vegetarian. We packed tuna sandwiches for lunch but was told that we should consume them before entering ACRES. The meat exception is for feeds given to carnivorous animals.
While most trapped animals are rescused and released back to the wild immediately, the badly injured ones are brought back to the centre for treatments and care till they can be released. ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre was opened in 2009 and has saved over 2,700 animals so far. The centre currently houses about 90 residents.
Although I was somewhat disappointed at not being able to have a hands-on interaction with the animals, I totally understand why leaving the animals alone is the best thing we can do for them. Many of the rescued Star Tortoises are awaiting transportation and release back in India, a process that can take a few years as paperwork and approvals crawl at a pace slower than the Testudine residents.
Seeing how the animals are being regarded, I’m heartened that they have a fighting chance at survival and saw how irresponsible pet ownership can cause so much pain to the animals, who suffer helplessly in silence.
The most sprightly and colourful space at ACRES is the education centre, where school groups can learn more about the illegal pet trade and animal abuses.
I didn’t read every poster of information because there are just too many, showing just how widespread and varied in form animal abuses are.
Having witnessed the TLC given to the animals, I can’t help feeling a deep sense of respect for the devotion ACRES’ staff and volunteers have for the work they do.
Presently, ACRES has 9 full-time staff running its operations. As a not-for-profit organisation, ACRES depends wholly on public donations to continue their mission. To support ACRES, click here. Donations are tax deductible. Volunteers are also needed so if you love animals but don’t have time to keep pets, why not shower your care on ACRES’ rescued animals?
For making this blog post possible, I would like to thank the staff of ACRES who allowed me a rare insight into their work and learn about the plight of animals abused for our entertainment and as a food source.
Although the visit has come to an end, my awareness that Singapore has wildlife, knowledge about the illegal pet trade as well as the cruelty animals endure to feed us have just been awakened.
And my Tarzanitis has finally found a cure.