Chickaboo sparks debate on big birds as pets

An ostrich is seen running along the Federal Highway in Kuala Lumpur June 16, 2016. — Video screenshot courtesy of Instagram.com/jeffsandhu
An ostrich is seen running along the Federal Highway in Kuala Lumpur June 16, 2016. — Video screenshot courtesy of Instagram.com/jeffsandhu

PETALING JAYA, June 19 — We all had a giggle over the sprinting ostrich on Federal Highway on Thursday and even learnt its owner includes the six-month-old ostrich in an educational programme for school children, teaching them how to interact with animals.

After the comedic commotion by Chickaboo, its owner Darren Chow was reported as saying he rented an 8,000 sq ft compound to allow his beloved bird Chickaboo to roam freely, but when neighbours requested to keep the ostrich in a cage, Chow decided to return her to the Ostrich Wonderland farm in Semenyih, where he bought her as a chick.

While the ostrich was not harmed in the “road runner” incident, it left many puzzled about its habitat, raising questions and concerns if these flightless, large birds should be kept within the compound of a house.

Veterinary Services Department deputy director-general (development) Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said a house owner “would require a large area to take large birds in, so we have to evaluate if there is sufficient space for it.”

After the incident, Dr Quaza’s team got in touch with Chow.

“We are assessing if the ostrich is housed in an appropriate area and if there was any cruelty involved,” he said.

 Dr Quaza said while the Animal Welfare Act 2015 had been passed, regulations reflecting on ethical care are still a work in progress which will only be finalised by the end of the year.

“The regulation needs to complement the Act for it to be enforced and give effect to what was passed last year,” he said. As the Act has yet to be implemented, the Animals Act 1953, which serves as a reference point, states: “No person shall keep in captivity for sale, export or exhibition any animal or bird in any place which is not licensed in that behalf in accordance with rules made under this Act.”

The owner and operator of Ostrich Wonderland, Casey Teh, said a space of 200 sq ft was sufficient for an ostrich to walk but not run.

However, he said it was not necessary for the big birds to run about, and he did not see a problem keeping them in a house compound.

“It’s okay as long as there are no complaints from neighbours. The most important thing in rearing an ostrich is hygiene,” he said.

Safety-wise, Teh said, ostriches were not aggressive by nature, unless provoked.

But an environmental group said there was no room for argument when it came to the rearing of large birds at home.

Malaysian Nature Society’s Penang branch adviser Kanda Kumar said large bird species like ostriches, emus and cassowaries should only belong in a farm, zoo or bird park with ample land.

“They walk long distances so they need a free range,” Kanda said.

“As a rough estimate, half an acre is considered small for them.

“If kept in the vicinity of one’s house, the bird can pose a threat if it escapes, potentially harming people around it if it is provoked.

“The cassowary, for example, is known to have very strong claws and if it claws your stomach area, it can pull out your intestines.”

Ostriches, on the other hand, have the ability to kill a lion with a quick kick, thanks to its powerful legs. It can also sprint up to 70km per hour and maintain a steady speed of 50km per hour.

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