Sin Ming chickens get place to roost

Animal activist ropes in friends to catch birds and home them in his dog daycare centre

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Mr Tan with some of the rescued birds at the aviary he built for them in Bukit Timah. He hopes to house them there until he can find people to adopt them. Strict AVA guidelines are being followed to prevent any transmission of diseases.
Mr Tan with some of the rescued birds at the aviary he built for them in Bukit Timah. He hopes to house them there until he can find people to adopt them. Strict AVA guidelines are being followed to prevent any transmission of diseases. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

When free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming were culled, many people voiced their disapproval, but animal rescue volunteer Derrick Tan decided to do something about it.

"Many people were upset when the authorities killed the chickens, but no one was stepping forward to do anything about it. So my team and I decided that, since we have space, we could rescue some of them," said Mr Tan, 36.

The man who founded dog rescue group Voices for Animals, rounded up six birds from Sin Ming and placed them in an aviary he had built in Bukit Timah, where he runs Sunny Heights, a canine daycare centre.

Yesterday, on World Wildlife Day, he launched another rescue mission in Sin Ming to catch more birds.

A public outcry followed a move by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to cull 24 out of more than 50 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming in January after it received 20 complaints about the fowls being noisy.

AVA said it took action to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues, adding later that the chickens could pose a bird-flu risk.

Mr Tan had to ensure he followed AVA guidelines in housing them.

AVA allows a maximum of 10 chickens to be kept in certain premises, and only within bird-proof enclosures, such as ones with fine wire-mesh netting, which prevents the chickens from having contact with other birds or animals. The cage must also have a proper roof.

"The keeping of chickens by VFA is allowed as long as the chickens are kept according to AVA's guidelines," an AVA spokesman said.

"Breeding of the chickens is not allowed," the spokesman said.

Mr Tan got to work about two weeks ago, enlisting the help of a friend who used to work in construction to build the aviary, which measures about 4m by 5m. It is about 2m high, allowing a person to walk in without crouching.

Mr Tan he said he spent about $2,500 on the structure, most of which came out of his own pocket. He received about $500 in donations from friends.

The aviary was completed in about a week. The next step was to catch the birds, which Mr Tan did with the help of friends and advice from staff at a temple in Sin Ming.

"We first had to explain to the temple staff that we were not catching the birds to cull them but to rescue them," he said.

He also contacted veterinarian Kenneth Tong, from the Animal and Avian Veterinary Clinic, for advice on diet, bird welfare and husbandry issues.

He advised Mr Tan to ensure that those interacting with the birds washed their hands after doing so and wore a mask while cleaning the coop.

Following such steps can help prevent transmission of diseases between humans and animals.

"Keeping the chickens separate from wild birds can help reduce the risk of bird flu and other viruses, and I told Mr Tan to be on the lookout for signs of illness in a bird, such as if it stops eating, has difficulty breathing or has discharge coming from its nose," the vet told The Straits Times.

"If such signs are observed, he should take the bird to a vet immediately. Thankfully, there is no bird flu in Singapore thanks to actions taken by AVA, but precautions should still be taken."

Mr Tan has taken precautions to prevent breeding. He has created a "nest" out of an old basket covered with leaves where the hens can lay eggs. The nest is tilted at an angle, so laid eggs will roll to a separate "drain", where the eggs can be collected and consumed instead of hatching into chicks.

The chicken culling saga was the latest conflict between humans and wildlife here.

There have been similar concerns about nuisance caused by other animals, for instance, when long-tailed macaques sometimes enter homes bordering nature reserves in search of food. There have also been reports of wild boars and stray dogs attacking people.

Professor Peter Ng, who heads the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, felt Mr Tan's actions were noble. "We're living in a concrete jungle. Compassion is a nice attribute to have. "

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC and a known animal welfare advocate, applauded Mr Tan for stepping forward.

But he called on AVA to provide details of how it plans to deal with free-ranging birds in Singapore.

"If the authorities decide there is no longer a need to cull the birds, then finite resources can be saved to rescue other animals," said Mr Ng.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline Sin Ming chickens get place to roost. Subscribe