Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Singapore Zoo Tiger: Why should people suffer?

Elysa Chen Tue, Nov 18, 2008
The New Paper

HE was so angry when he heard the news of cleaner Nordin Montong's death that Mr Ramson Ali applied for leave to visit the zoo the next day.

And when the 42-year-old got there, he went around doing a 'personal audit' of the zoo, inspecting the barriers and the safety measures adopted there.

He was not just being a busybody. Mr Ramson, a consultant in the food and beverage industry, told The New Paper on Sunday that he was angry because his own niece had been seriously hurt in a zoo accident two years ago.

He said: 'Such things should never happen. I was shocked when I heard the news and I thought about my niece. Something must be done to improve the level of safety at the zoo.'

On 5 Oct 2006, Mr Ramson's niece, Miss Ernie Fazlihana Ismail, was attacked by a rhinoceros while working as a zookeeper in the Night Safari, an extension of the Singapore Zoo.

The two-tonne animal had charged at Miss Ernie, then 24 years old, apparently after being startled by a camera flash from a visitor.

She and her male colleague had been feeding the rhino. After the flash, the animal charged at Miss Ernie, knocking her from the back and trampling on her.

Her male colleague dislocated his right shoulder while trying to distract the animal. Other zookeepers eventually evacuated Miss Ernie and her colleague.

Miss Ernie's thigh was so badly fractured after the attack that she needed surgery. Mr Ramson said the rhinoceros' horn had also gored his niece's thigh, leaving a big hole in her leg.

He said: 'After the accident, my niece could not walk for one year.'

Miss Ernie has recovered and is back in the zoo working in its office, Mr Ramson said, but he is not sure what position she holds.

He said: 'Others may have blamed the animals, but she didn't blame the animals at all. She was just angry at those people who did not follow the rules.'

Though Mr Ramson concedes that the death of Mr Nordin is unlike the incident involving his niece, he and his wife believe extra safety precautions should have been put in place.

He said: 'For enclosures with dangerous animals, there should be more barricades between the visitors and the animals, such as a glass barrier which can still allow people to see the animals. This way, no one will hurt themselves in the zoo.'

Gesturing to the fence at the white tigers' exhibit, behind which visitors would stand, Mr Ramson, who visits the zoo three times a year, said: 'Look at the barrier. It barely comes up to someone's waist. You never know, in a split second, a child who has never seen these animals may get too excited, climb on the ledge, and fall in. Then it's game-over.'

Agreeing, Mrs Ramson, 31, a grooming consultant, said that while she liked the open concept of the zoo, she believes that security could be improved by stationing more zookeepers around animal enclosures.

She said: 'When we visited a zoo in Australia, there were zookeepers stationed everywhere. Here, it is too quiet in certain corners of the zoo.'

She suggested that zookeepers could wear a device that would alert the office once they crossed a boundary, so that staff members could be activated immediately once any accident occurs.

On top of that, Mrs Ramson felt that employees at the zoo should undergo psychological tests, and heads of departments should monitor the emotional well-being of staff members before letting them go to work.

The zoo has already said that it plans to review its safety procedures.

Spokesman Biswajit Guha, the zoo's assistant director of zoology, said that the zoo may consider installing a trip-wire along the fence of the white tiger enclosure.

It is already considering increasing the frequency of patrols. Right now, there are 80 staff members patrolling the zoo at any one time.

Ms Isabel Cheng, director of sales marketing and communication at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the zoo's parent company, said that zookeepers have been briefed to be on the lookout for people who look troubled. External contractors such as the one that Mr Nordin was working for would also be briefed to do the same, she said.

Mr Ramson said: 'What everyone has learnt after the latest incident is the importance of educating people to be responsible, for yourself and others around you - whether it is about not using camera flash in the zoo, or endangering yourself unnecessarily.

'Perhaps the zoo could conduct briefings and educate everyone on this, before letting people go in, whether they are workers or visitors.'

Why should people suffer?
AsiaOne, Singapore