It is a rather other-worldly and once-in-a-lifetime experience to play host at the Singapore Night Safari in the midst of a rapidly worsening global pandemic which had jumped from animals to humans - but there I was on one chilly Saturday night, trying to convince myself that my chances of contracting the Wuhan coronavirus were slim - after all, there were few tourists to be seen anywhere; the Night Safari was starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to a ghost town; and the furry stars of the "Creatures of the Night Show" were forbidden to showcase their snazzy moves in public due to "safety reasons".
When news of the Wuhan coronavirus broke, I, as a Conservation Ambassador at the Singapore Night Safari, was immediately alerted to the precautionary measures that Wildlife Reserves Singapore was enacting to safeguard the health of its guests, staff, and volunteers. Make no mistake, I was very touched by the fact that the zoological organisation was going the extra mile to safeguard the interests of everyone alike; yet, I was gravely disappointed by the observation that netizens were taking steps to lambaste Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the animals under its care on social media. From derogatory remarks made about the animals being "dirty" creatures to the mooting of the signing of public petitions to shut down the Singapore Zoo in the name of public health on Wildlife Reserves Singapore's Facebook page, I felt an emotion surging within myself. That emotion was anger. The emotion that one typically feels upon seeing one's family member being ill-treated by others, the emotion that one typically feels upon hearing about acts of racism-fuelled police brutality in the United States, and the emotion that one typically feels upon witnessing a belligerent bully shove a child at the neighbourhood playground beneath one's Housing Development Board (HDB) block.
But somehow, when it came to wildlife, typical became atypical. There was an air of superiority, an air of paranoia, and an air of resentment. After getting surfeited of pointing fingers at one another, the human race found another weaker species to be the scapegoat - wildlife. It did not take long for homosapiens to begin condemning animalia for being unhygienic and for transmitting all sorts of diseases, ironically forgetting that they themselves were the ones contributing to the elephant in the room in the first place by engaging in unsanitary consumption practices! As the illegal wildlife market found itself being unwillingly thrust into the spotlight with the global attention that the Wuhan coronavirus was receiving, the culpability quickly shifted from the persons involved in the trade to the specific types of wildlife species that had sparked off the international health emergency (bats, pangolins and snakes have now become the new lightning rod for media-shaming - for instance, a recent Telegraph article's headline slammed bats as the "perfect disease host"). The cruel, vicious objectification of animals soon made me realise that there was a far more insidious problem belying the Wuhan coronavirus crisis, a problem far more teething than the failure of the Chinese authorities to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade, a problem far more ingrained than the inherent xenophobia present amongst members of the human race - and that was Mankind's paucity of basic respect for wildlife.
"Can you tell me how I can help to save these eye-masked animals in the future?" The girl looked at me doe-eyed, smiling. She was one of the few visitors to The Night Safari's Fishing Cat Trail that uneventful night. Moved by her innocence, I smiled back to her and pointed at the Asian palm civets shuttling between the branches, "Look, these are Asian palm civets, people catch them to make kopi luwak, the world's most expensive coffee. You can help them by not buying kopi luwak." "Why do people even catch them?" She asked, aghast. "Because they don't know how to respect animals," I replied earnestly. "What's respect?" She then inquired quizzingly. "Respect is simply treating others the way you want to be treated."