Serving up a lesson

JUNE 28 ― People can’t seem to get enough of cats these days. Once only found in obscure places like your B-graded mamaks or the crazy cat lady’s house next door, today one can argue that they have taken the world by storm.

These puffy furballs have even made it to the internet; invading the tranquillity that is my Facebook and Instagram newsfeed.

As if regular-sized cats aren’t enough to deal with, some of us have gone to the extreme of keeping large cats as pets.

Only last week, news of the intended sale of a serval cat (Leptailurus serval) belonging to the cosmetic millionaire Datuk Aliff Syukri went viral on the internet. The feline of African origin was to be sold because of his failure to “tame” the creature.

The move split Malaysian public opinion down the middle. While many condemned keeping the cat in a small toilet, others proceeded to suggest distasteful actions that may help him tame the serval which included starving the animal, letting it live with his clothes and feeding it with his saliva.

Oxymoron: Positive backlash

I, for one, see this public backlash as a positive. It is a sign that Malaysians have an appetite for wildlife and animal welfare issues.

Indeed it is these sentiments that led to the raid by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on his premises.

However, the serval cat is listed as a protected species in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which does allow possession with a proper permit. In the eyes of the law, the owner has done nothing wrong.

That aside, the keeping of exotic wildlife should not be encouraged, especially by celebrities who wield influence in the social and business sphere.

One has the moral obligation to be a good example to fellow members of society as a celebrity.

By keeping an exotic pet albeit with a license, the celebrity might influence other individuals to do the same; as a way of replicating an image of success.

The only difference here is that the wannabe celebrity might not have access or be inclined to keep exotic pets lawfully.

Symbol of power and wealth

That does of course beg the question: why are people of influence inclined to keep exotic pets? Justin Bieber with his capuchin monkey, Paris Hilton’s kinkajou and who can forget Michael Jackson’s minizoo.

I argue that possession of an exotic pet serves as a symbol of wealth and power. What better way to announce that one is affluent and has connections than by keeping a pet, worth thousands of ringgit and originating from another continent?

It is this same reason that there are more tigers in captivity in the United States alone than there are in the wild, worldwide. A jarring truth that we must aim to change.

Aside from that, keeping an exotic pet draws attention. Dodi (the serval’s nickname) has an Instagram account (@kucing_ajaib) that has an astonishing 153,000 followers.

It is often featured on the owner’s social media feeds as well. I speculate that the adulation received by the serval has a spillover effect to the owner and thus translates into dollars and cents for his business.

Dialling down obsession

Coming back to the feline’s welfare, servals are known to establish territories ranging from 10 to 32 km2. Reducing that area to the size of your average toilet is definitely not ideal.

One cannot expect larger and wilder felines to behave like domestic cats when in captivity. That process took almost 9,000 years to achieve.

I urge readers to avoid keeping exotic wildlife, better yet, speak out against such actions by fellow Malaysians.

Yes, that slow loris, palm civet or dusky leaf monkey might be cute. But they belong in our forests, not confined to your four concretes walls.

One might consider getting conventional pets like a dog, a cat, heck even a goldfish if you’re lonely. For the rest of us couch potatoes, I think scrolling cat pictures on the internet will suffice for now.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.