Continuing 20-year mission, Acres tackles rise in wildlife rescue calls amid pandemic

A green iguana in an outdoor enclosure at the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society on May 21. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - Despite fund-raising challenges caused by the pandemic, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) is facing its animal advocacy mission with renewed energy on its 20th birthday.

In April last year during the circuit breaker period, its 24-hour wildlife rescue hotline received about 1,100 calls a month. This has risen to 1,800 calls currently.

Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan, 35, co-chief executive of the wildlife rescue group, said reasons for this increase include how more people started exploring the island as they could not travel abroad, which meant more close encounters with local wildlife.

Some species, such as macaques and common palm civets have also adapted well to living within urban residential estates, he said. With more people working from home, awareness about these creatures in their midst has also grown.

"All of us must do our part to co-exist with wildlife. Misconceptions and lack of awareness about wildlife may have led to an increase in calls for conflict cases as well, as more people may have started to feed wildlife apart from calls asking for the removal of the animals," he said.

Acres has needed more resources for its three rescue teams, who work in pairs, supported by volunteers. There are more than 150 reptiles, birds and mammals in its care at any given time at its rescue centre in Jalan Lekar in the north-west, near Choa Chu Kang.

Acres was founded in 2001 by a group of Singaporeans concerned about animal welfare, including Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC. As it marked its 20th anniversary on May 24, Acres said it continues to work towards its mission of creating a world where animals are treated with compassion, despite fund-raising hurdles.

The non-profit outfit had originally intended to hold a gala fund-raising dinner - its largest source of donations annually - to celebrate the occasion with its supporters, with the aim of raising $140,000. But the cancellation of the event, along with its other projects in the light of Covid-19, meant that it had to look for alternative sources of funds to sustain its high volume of rescue work.

Beyond rescuing animals, Acres also tackles the wildlife trade through its education and outreach programmes, which also had to be suspended due to the tighter Covid-19 restrictions in May after a rise in community cases.

Other projects on hold include a collaboration with Wala Wala Cafe Bar in Holland Village to raise funds through a menu of cocktails named after native wildlife. This was halted due to the recent ban on dining in at eateries for a month.

Acres has turned to online events, where the public can sign up and make a donation to participate, such as an art lesson hosted by one of its volunteers who is also trained in textile design.

Other events are free, such as a livecast on Instagram on May 22, showing co-chief executive Anbarasi Boopal with two wildlife rescue officers in action as they respond to calls in a typical day.

Acres co-chief executive Anbarasi Boopal checking on birds in the intensive care unit at the non-profit outfit. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN
Baby orioles at Acres. Over 150 reptiles, birds and mammals are in its care at its rescue centre at any given time. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

To bring positive stories to its supporters, Acres started a video series last November, said Ms Anbarasi, 38, who has been with Acres full time for 14 years.

The stories featured in the five episodes so far include rescuing a python that was stuck in a drainage pipe, and raising three abandoned baby common palm civets for months before releasing them into the wild.

One of its key aims this year is to improve the rehabilitation of native wildlife which seek refuge here through more specialised enclosures, before they are released into the wild. It also hopes to buy more intensive care units.

Mr Kalai said: "It has been an amazing 20 years of helping animals and the community. But above the rescues and work to promote awareness and education, our aspiration is to cultivate compassion for all sentient beings. We will continue to strive towards that."

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